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Key conservation caucus

…urges protection of Lake Natron

Conservationists from all over Africa and other parts of the world have strongly urged the Government of Tanzania to ensure the protection of Lake Natron. The site is the world’s most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos Phoeniconaias minor.

At the recently concluded 12th Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 12), held near Cape Town, South Africa, the experts expressed concern that the proposed soda ash mining at Lake Natron raises serious questions about the future of the lake and its flamingos.

In a resolution unanimously passed during the closing day, the meeting noted that the lake is uniquely suitable for Lesser Flamingo nesting because of the chemical composition of the water, the presence of a suitable substrate for nest construction, and very effective isolation from disturbance by humans and predators.“The Lesser Flamingo population in Eastern Africa, of some 1.5-2.5 million birds, accounting for 75% of the global population, is therefore dependent on this lake for its survival”, stated the resolution signed by the PAOC Committee Chairman Professor Adrian Craig.

Tata Chemicals Ltd backed up by the Government of Tanzania has proposed to construct a soda ash plant capable of producing 500,000 tonnes of soda ash (sodium bicarbonate) at Lake Natron. The project has drawn worldwide opposition. BirdLife International led the ‘Think Pink’ campaign against the project while a coalition of conservation institutions in Eastern Africa, Lake Natron Consultative Group, spearheaded another.

The PAOC 12 resolution further noted that the display of pink flamingos at lakes in the East African Rift Valley is a major tourist attraction, described as 'the greatest ornithological spectacle on earth'. This natural heritage therefore needed to be conserved.Conservationists have warned that soda ash mining could jeopardize the breeding efforts of Lesser Flamingos. The PAOC resolution affirmed this saying: “Such a development could permanently perturb the conditions that make Lake Natron suitable place for Lesser Flamingos to breed.”

The PAOC 12 resolution urged the Tanzanian government adopt the Precautionary Principle and rule out any developments that could potentially pose a risk to Lesser Flamingos. The resolution further called for the development of an Integrated Management Plan that ‘underpins the conservation of the Lake Natron ecosystem in perpetuity, and the use of its resources in a manner that does not put biodiversity and people’s livelihoods at risk.’ In addition, the Congress called for co-operation between Tanzania and Kenya, across whose joint border Lake Natron is situated. This would ensure the conservation and wise use of this site, following the principle of cross-border co-operation that is enshrined in several Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

“We are delighted that this Congress has recognized the global uniqueness of Lake Natron,” said Dr. Leon Bennun of BirdLife International’s Global Secretariat on the sidelines of PAOC 12. “BirdLife International hopes that the governments will do what it takes to protect this global heritage,” he added.

Dr Chris Magin of the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (UK) said the PAOC 12 resolution had taken the debate on the future of Lake Natron and its flamingos a notch higher.

“It is hard for anyone to ignore the sentiments of more than 250 eminent scientists from all over the world”, he concluded.

“We welcome the PAOC resolution and urge the Tanzania government to consider it carefully”, said Ms. Jane Gaithuma, the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator at the BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat. “With the long term future of Lake Natron currently under discussion, this resolution is very timely,” she said.

4th July 2014