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I’m endlessly fascinated by naturally occurring places that are completely inhospitable to all or most forms of life. It’s one thing when humanity so thoroughly destroys an ecosystem that everything there dies – such things, at this point, still upset but no longer surprise me. But when it’s all up to nature herself, that’s…not a bad thing. Good or bad doesn’t even enter into it. Nature just is. And sometimes, she happens to be deadly.
One of those places is Lake Natron in northern Tanzania, where temperatures reach 140 °F (60 °C) and, thanks to volcanic ash from the Great Rift Valley, the alkalinity levels approach that of ammonia, between pH 9 and pH 10.5. With the exception of an endangered species of extremophile fish, the alkaline tilapia (Alcolapia alcalica), Lake Natron is such a harsh and alkaline environment that any animals who come into contact with its waters perish and calcify.
English photographer Nick Brandt was already working in east Africa when he stopped by Lake Natron and discovered the calcified bodies of a few different birds and a bat along the shoreline. Upon finding their hauntingly preserved bodies, Brandt arranged them into living poses, “reanimated, alive again in death” in this beautiful, but deadly landscape.
Brandt told NewScientist,
“I could not help but photograph them. 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.”
These eerie and poignant photos can be found in Nick Brandt’s book, Across the Ravaged Land, the final volume in his trilogy of starkly beautiful photography books documenting the disappearing animals of eastern Africa.