Bizarre African Lake Natron Turns Flamingos Into Stone

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A British photographer who specializes in documenting regions of East Africa has found one more place to add to your list of places not to go swimming.

Nick Brandt recently took a series of photographs at Lake Natron, in northern Tanzania, showing birds that have been turned to stone by the highly toxic chemical composition of the lake’s waters.

While water temperatures in the hellish lake can reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the extreme alkaline quality of the water that renders it uninhabitable except by a single breed of alkaline-resistant fish and some algae.

The lake is named after the naturally occurring substance natron which consists primarily of sodium carbonate with a lesser degree of sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda. The composition of the lake’s waters is similar to natron.

Natron was often used by ancient Egyptians to mummify corpses.

Scientists believe that birds see the glassy surface of the waters as a landing area, but then they sink into the lake and can’t escape because of the water’s thick, heavy quality. Once trapped, they, in effect, mummify.

Flamingos use the lake’s perimeter as a nesting grounds and feed off the blue-green algae that lives on the surface. Because the lake is so hot and caustic, no other animals come near the place, allowing the flamingos to remain safe from predators.

Brandy recovered carcasses of the dead birds and arranged them into poses, creating a series of eerie images.

"I could not help but photograph them," Brandt said. "No one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake's surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake."

SOURCES: New Scientist, Guardian Express, BBC Nature