Lake Natron, Kenya & Tanzania

Lake Locations:

Kenya - Rift Valley - Tanzania - Arusha -

Lake Natron in northern Tanzania is a very special lake. Lying close to the Kenya border in the eastern branch of Africa’s Rift Valley, Lake Natron is the world’s largest breeding ground of the Lesser Flamingo. As the only breeding ground for this beautiful bird in East Africa, 2.5 million flamingos depend on Lake Natron for their continued survival. This large salt lake lies in an area that receives very little rainfall and relies on the intermittent flow of the Ewaso Ng’iro River flowing from Kenya and hot mineral springs to add water to the lake. Much water is lost through evaporation, leaving behind the salts and minerals that result in Lake Natron having a pH level near that of ammonia at times. The temperature of the water can range up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

This odd set of attributes makes Lake Natron an ideal breeding spot for the flamingos, who build their nests elevated above the hot mud flats. The hot, mineral-rich water is ideal for the growth of salt-loving microorganisms such as cyanobacteria, a form of blue-green algae. Red pigment in the cyanobacteria causes the red coloring of the water and tinges the salt crust of the lake pink. There are few intruders into this hostile environment, thus the flamingos can nest without disturbance, feasting on the algae.

Only a few types of fish can thrive in this mineral-rich environment. Two that do are uniquely acclimated to the hot spring inlets – both a form of alkaline tilapias. Because of the arid climate and lack of fresh water, there are no permanent settlements near the lake, just some herding and seasonal cultivation. Lake Natron has had human visitors for many thousands of years: beginning in 1998, human footprints judged to be 120,000 years old were discovered embedded in the tuft along the south shore of the lake. Various safaris and treks in the area take visitors to view the footprints, which are under study by anthropologists. Lake Natron is a scheduled stop on most Tanzania safaris and guided treks. Several camps near the shoreline act as stopping points for the safaris and as base camps from which the adventurous climb the slopes of nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai. This still-active volcano is unique among active volcanoes in that it produces natrocarbonatite lava, a unique occurrence of volcanic carbonatite. Further, the temperature of its lava as it emerges is only around 950 degrees Fahrenheit.

Designated as Lake Natron Basin Wetlands Of International Importance by RAMSAR, the international conservation community has attempted to work with the government of Tanzania to protect the delicate Lake Natron environment and its resident lesser flamingos. Currently, two threats to the ecology of Lake Natron are recognized. The first is a proposed hydroelectric dam to be built on the Kenya portion of the Ewaso Ng’iro River. It is feared that disruption of the water supply will change the alkalinity levels, thus endangering the food supply that supports the flamingo population. The second threat is the current plan by the government of Tanzania to allow a soda ash plant to be developed on the lakeshore. This plan includes providing housing for up to 1000 workers on-site and suspending a network of piping into the water to extract minerals for soda ash production. Ecologists are concerned that such an enterprise would alter salinity levels to the point where the flamingo nesting population would no longer be viable. Conservation groups are working internationally to try to alleviate damage to Lake Natron’s sensitive environment for both of these activities.

Camps near the shores of Lake Natron host eco-safaris and bird-watching tours; the freshwater marshes surrounding Lake Natron attract a variety of birds such as weavers, bee-eaters, vultures, eagles, storks, egrets, corrie bustards, sparrow, doves, buzzards and hawks. Bird-watching expeditions are most popular during the wet season, while large mammal viewing is better during the dry season. The closest access point to most treks and safaris that include Lake Natron is the Kilimanjaro Airport. A number of safari companies can provide nearly any itinerary you wish to travel. Depending on the level of luxury a safari group chooses, accommodations range from luxurious ‘camp’ accommodations including permanent tent facilities on raised platforms and complete with private baths, custom-prepared meals and spa treatments to rough camping facilities with provided tents. Some treks are available for bicycling tours, auto touring and volcano climbing. Cultural tours focus on visits to Masai villages to acquaint the visitors with traditional Masai culture. Several nearby reserves offer a variety of experiences and sights most first-time visitors to Africa consider high on their ‘bucket list’. Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti National Park are within 50 miles of Lake Natron’s south and west shores, while Shompole Conservancy extends from just north of the shore into Kenya. The private Shompole Conservancy offers unique lodging facilities designed to make the most of a spectacular Rift Valley view.

If a trip to East Africa is on your list of dream destinations, Lake Natron should hold a prominent spot on the itinerary. Although there is no swimming, fishing or boating, Lake Natron is an experience no lakelubber should miss. Because there is little local lodging or real estate available, organized safaris and treks are the best way to see everything this unique natural wonder has to offer. Pack the camera, the binoculars and the sunscreen . . .you’re in for a very special treat!

Things to do at Lake Natron

  • Camping
  • Biking
  • Birding
  • National Park

Lake Natron Photo Gallery

Lake Natron Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Saltwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 148,263 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,001 feet

Water Volume: 283,750 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 360 sq. miles

We strive to keep the information on LakeLubbers as accurate as possible. However, if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you! Please fill out our Content Correction form.

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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