Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Flamingos or washing soda?

Oh-oh! The flamingos are in trouble.

New Scientist reports that the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is concerned that Lake Natron in Tanzania is about to be ruined by plans to build a factory on its shore.

Lake Natron is a shallow, saline lake covered with a crust of salt, and is home to more than 500,000 lesser flamingos during the summer. That's 75% of the world’s breeding population. The lake has also been the lesser flamingo's only nesting site in East Africa for 45 years.

According to the RSPB, an Indian company called TATA Chemicals has set its sights on Lake Natron's unusual waters and is planning to build a factory on its shore to pump the salty water and produce sodium carbonate (washing soda). The factory will be powered by a new coal-driven power station, and the developers also want to introduce a hybrid shrimp to the lake to increase the water's salinity.

Hmmmm... this sounds altogether not-good, right down to the coal powered electricity generation. The flamingo isn't just another little brown bird, or one of those small frogs that Australian conservationists get all excited about. It is one of the most amazing creatures on the planet!!

How can we value flamingos versus washing soda?

Now, that's a hard one!

Here is a Google Earth image showing Arusha, Lake Natron AND the location of the recent earthquakes (Ol Doinyo Lengai region – that's the little yellow triangle symbol on the left of the image – you can click on the image for a bigger version). The yellow line is the border with Kenya. Arusha is at the bottom, near the little yellow triangle signifying Mt Meru.

How is that for cartographic efficiency!!

UPDATE NOVEMBER 2007: The Tanzanian Government refused permission for the factory. It's good to see they have an eye on the long term benefit of environmental protection.

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