A massive flamingo colony in central Turkey’s Lake Tuz has been devastated by a regional drought over the last two weeks. The severe dry spell turned the UNESCO-protected Lake Tuz (which translates to “Salt Lake”) into a sere, cracked wasteland, with clumps of unevaporated salt and the dead birds being the main evidence a massive water body was only recently there.
Environmentalists said that the drought was due to local irrigation methods and climate change, citing a report by the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion that found water demand significantly outstripping supply. The Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Bekir Pakdemirli told Reuters that about 1,000 birds were thought to have died, but denied that agricultural practices were the problem. Pakdemirli added that the dead birds were young flamingos—flaminglets—that couldn’t yet fly, and so were stuck with water that became increasingly salty until it completely evaporated.
Ordinarily, the lake is a hatching ground for the water birds. More than 12,000 flamingo chicks hatched in Lake Tuz in 2018, according to the Daily Sabah; this year, only 5,000 hatched, according to a local environmentalist who spoke to Reuters. In 2015, Vice reported that agricultural development in the area could spell doom for the lake, a booster for the local economy for its remarkable look and the salt that can be harvested from it. Now, it looks like that reality could be upon us.
The images out of Lake Tuz are a stark departure from everything you know about flamingos. Normally, a riotous cluster of pink birds (known as a “flamboyance”) would cluster on the vast green and blue background. But the recent photos out of Turkey have none of that color. They are just a dull brown-gray; the birds’ desiccated corpses sprawled along the dried-up lake.
Though the bird carcasses are the same color as the parched Earth, young flamingos are normally that color. Flamingos only take on their iconic pink coloration from their diet, which includes pigmented algae, mollusks, and crustaceans, which in turn color the birds. In Lake Tuz, the algae is the main culprit for colorizing the flamingos; the algae can even turn the whole lake pink (at least when the lake has water).
Even being labeled a protected area doesn’t mean much to climate change, which has made this natural wonder vanish into thin air. The drought comes as other parts of Europe are underwater due to record-setting floods, showing that climate extremes can affect the same continent in equally terrible ways.