Closest to Medusa – LAKE NATRON

By Devaa Ramalingam – Art in Tanzania intern

Although Medusa is a Greek mythological character whose eyes when people see turn into stone, the lake Natron is a real place situated in north Ngorongoro District of Arusha Region in Tanzania. It is one of the most shallow lakes in the world, its only 9.8 feet deep. The lake is a maximum of 57 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide. 

Why is It dangerous?

It seems like a normal lake when you hear its name, so what makes it lethal? The lake Natron is very close to the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai, this volcano forms a rare kind of lava that consists of rich amounts of sodium and potassium carbonate. These two chemicals were the key ingredients for the ancient Egyptian mummification. Hence, this lake has that preservative in a perfect lake form. This gives the lake that Vermillion-Red vibrance. 

In 2013, a wildlife photographer, Nick Brandt found out that there are dead birds found in the surface of the red water which seemed like as the bird came in contact with the water it turned into stone. 

Is there Life in lake Natron?

Although lot of these birds fly into lake as its reflective and mirror-like and die and turn into stone-this lake is not barren. The lakes toxic waters provide a safe haven from predators. This is why its best suited for flamingos. Flamingos thrive in salty lakes as they have tough skin and long-scaly legs that prevent burns. They have a special gland in their nasal cavity which helps them filter water for drinking. They are able to feed on the toxic algae found all over the lake as their stomach are very strong.

Can Humans go into lake Natron?

The simple answer is no as we are NOT flamingos. As depending on the time of the year the water can be up to 60 degrees which can cause third degree burn in less than 5 seconds. You can’t take a quick dive either as the lake is very shallow and as it has high concentration of sodium there are sharp salt crystals found in the surface.

The Medusa factor:

Anything that falls into the lake Natron or touches it, won’t be turned into stone immediately. But if an animal is drowned in it and its body manages to stay submerged in the lake the entire body would harden in time and be preserved. If you find a body even after hundreds of years after becoming stone, the hair and organs would still be intact. In the ancient Egypt they used the natron salt for mummification, with which is what the whole lake Natron is made of. As the lake has high alkaline content, it stops the decomposition process.

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