Lake Elementaita is a soda lake, in the eastern limb of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley, about 120 km northwest of Nairobi, Kenya. Elementaita is derived from the Masaai word muteita, meaning “dust place”, a reference to the dry and dusty quality of the area, especially between January and March. In the south-to-north sequence of Rift Valley lakes, Elementaita is located between Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru. At the southern end of the lake lie the “Kekopey” hot springs, in which the Tilapia Grahamii breed. The reedbeds nearby are fishing grounds for Night Herons and Pelicans.
Over 400 bird species have been recorded in the Lake Nakuru/Lake Elementaita basin. Elementaita attracts visiting flamingoes, both the Greater and Lesser varieties, which feed on the lake’s crustacean and insect larvae and on its suspended blue-green algae, respectively. Tilapia were introduced to the lake from Lake Magadi in 1962 and since that time the flamingo population has dwindled considerably. The tilapia attract many fish-eating birds that also feed upon the flamingo eggs and chicks. Over a million birds that formerly bred at Elementaita are now said to have sought refuge at Lake Natron in Tanzania. The lake’s shores are grazed by zebra, gazelle, eland and families of warthog.
The lake is normally very shallow (< 1 m deep) and bordered by trona-encrusted mudflats during the dry seasons. During the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, Lake Elementaita was at times united with and expanded Lake Nakuru, forming a much larger dilute lake. Remnants of the former joined lake are preserved as sediments at various locations around the lake basins, including former shorelines forests.
The geology of the Lake and its surrounding area
The lake was formed 12 million years ago when the emergence of the Great Rift Valley caused a series of inland drainage basins to be formed. As a result, the rocks of the region are mostly volcanic whilst the soils are fragile, highly porous and highly susceptible to erosion. The ecological balance of the lake is constantly under threat thanks to the drastic fluctuations in water level that occur due to little-understood interactions between hydrology, meteorology and geology. Meanwhile the populations of algae, invertebrates, fish and flamingos can only survive under very specific conditions, which means that any change in water level and/or composition has a drastic impact on the entire biosphere.