We all know Medusa, the mythological figure who could turn anyone into stone if you looked in her eyes. Petrification is a very amusing subject to many of us. For the enthusiasts and the ones who fear it, there is a lake in Tanzania, that turns animals and birds into stone-like figures.
Petrification in Fiction
If you are a fan of Greek Mythology, you must know about Medusa and how she had the ability to turn anything she laid eyes upon, into stone. We’ve seen this petrification (turning into stone) of things in novels like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the Patchwork Girl of Oz. It was also show in the T.V series The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The originals. Let’s not forget the Percy Jackson & the Olympians novel which actually showed Medusa and how she turned everything into stone with just one gaze.
While all of the petrification that we know happened in movies, novel and even games. However, what if we told you there is a place where something similar to petrification is possible and has actually happened.
Lake Natron - Where Petrification Is Not Fiction
Tanzania, which is an east African country which is just south of Kenya and east of the Indian Ocean is home to the amazing Kilimanjaro and its wildlife- rich national parks. But it is also home to lake Natron, which seems to turn everything into stone.
This lake is one of the most serene lakes in all of Africa. The water in the lake is alkaline and has a pH level as high as 10.5. Whereas, for the marine life to survive, the pH level has to be between 6 and 8. This may vary depending on the soil and bedrock. Since the pH of the Natron lake is so high it is highly corrosive. It can even burn animals’ skin as well as wear the eye off.
Why Is The Lake Natron So Corrosive?
The reason for this high corrosiveness of this lake is because of the sodium carbonate and other such minerals that flow into the lake from the hills that surround it. That is why when any animal or bird that has not adopted to such toxic environment comes in contact with this lake, is solidified. Sodium carbonate was used in Egyptian mummification because of its preservative qualities. But as Mahatma Buddha said “Everything which in your life you have in excess than you actually require is poison”, too much of sodium carbonate is also hazardous to our health.
Inhalation of this chemical can cause severe effects such as respiratory tract irritation, coughing, shortness of breath and pulmonary edema. If it came in contact with your eye, it can cause permanent corneal injury and burns. That is why, with such a toxic chemical found largely in the lake Natron, it isn’t a surprise that anything that comes in contact with the water in this lake is burnt.
Halophiles and Lake Natron!
The lake appears reddish in colour due to the microorganisms that thrive in these conditions called halophiles. These microorganisms love the alkaline water and produce a reddish pigment. This is why the lake appears to have a reddish hue.
Since the lake is located in an extremely dry region, where rainfall is a miracle, the lake gets its water from the hot springs and small rivers that surround it. The lake runs for a good 35 miles and is 15 miles wide. The Gelai volcano is located to the southeast edge of the lake making it easy for the toxins from the volcano to enter the lake and make it toxic as well. The ashes from the Great Rift Valley which separates Tanzania from Kenya and Ethiopia, collects at the basin of the lake and makes it very hostile for majority of organisms to live in.
The Lake Derives It's Name From Natron
Since the area is so dry, the high level of evaporation causes natron to be left behind in the lakes bed. Yes, lake Natron received its name because of the high concentration of natron available on the lakes bed. Natron is a hydrous native of sodium carbonate. It was used in embalming, in ceramic paste as well as in cleansing agents.
What natron does is, it sucks out all the moisture from a body and dries it up. It does exactly this with the animals and birds that come in contact with the water and dries them up, leaving behind only its carcass. That is why, in the summer when the water level is lower, calcified carcasses wash up along the shore. If they are left out like that for a long period of time, they become so hard that they look like stone.
The Proof Of Petrification In Lake Natron
Back in 2011, Nick Brandt, a photographer, travelled to East Africa for shooting for a new book named Across the Ravaged Land. What he saw once he visited the lake was calcified birds and animals along the side on the lake. He said that the environment surrounding the lake was so toxic that it would strip the ink off his Kodak film boxes within seconds!
A lot of migrating birds crash into the lake’s surface due to the highly-reflective, chemically dense still water that would appear like a glass door, which would fool the birds into thinking that they are flying into open space, when in fact, they are just crashlanding into their death.
Not Just Animals Humans Are Petrified Too!
Birds aren’t the only ones to fall prey to the lakes glass-like feature. Back in 2007, a group of wildlife documentary makers crashed into the lake. Sydney cameraman Ben Herbertson and producer Jeff Sibbery were in Tanzania along with an eight-member crew to film the flamingos for an African wildlife documentary.
The helicopter they took out to the lake flew too close to the lake in order to enable the crew to take better shots of the flamingos and the craft crashed into the lake. Herbertson stated that “The next thing I knew I was in the lake and the water was burning my eyes.” The aircraft burst and corroded very quickly once it came in contact with the water. While the crew was saved, they were traumatized and suffered serious injuries.
Yhe Medusa Lake Is A Breeding Ground For Flamingos!
Despite the lake being so hostile, slat marshes, freshwater wetlands, flamingos and other wetland birds have adopted to the environment and have made it their home. The lake is the breeding ground for Lesser Flamingos, with 75% of the world’s population of these flamingos are hatched here. The reason for this is that not many predators can survive in this area making it safe for the flamingos to hatch their offspring’s.
The lake is definitely one of the most unique places in the world. It’s so unique that it has been listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance and it is recognised by the World Wildlife Fund. Don’t go in it though.