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Rhone River Delta
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Rhone River Delta

August 27, 2007

Economic development often finds itself at odds with wildlife, but one case in France produced the opposite result. In 1969, the country established Etang du Fangassier, a lagoon in the Camargue region. The salty lagoon became home to a rare colony of flamingos. Protected from predators and fed by plentiful shrimp, the birds nested on an artificial island in the delta of the Rhône River for nearly three decades. In March 2007, however, the situation changed, according to a report from the BBC. A partial strike at the nearby salt works, Salin-de-Giraud, halted pumping of Mediterranean saltwater into the lagoon. Deprived on their nesting habitat, the flamingos left Etang du Fangassier in search of alternative sites.

On April 17, 2007, the month following the salt works strike, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of the region. In this simulated true-color image, vegetation appears green, bare ground appears beige-gray, and water appears in varying shades of blue. Bright white areas may be salt, sand, paved surfaces, or buildings.

The shallow lagoon of Etang du Fangassier is a mixture of sandbars and ponds in various shades of blue; the color depends on the depth and clarity of the water, but all are lighter than the deep blue of the nearby Mediterranean Sea and Rhône River. Bright white rectangles mark the Salin-de-Giraud saltworks near the river. The geometric shapes on the land surface indicate cultivated crops (green) and some fallow fields (beige).

Etang du Fangassier had long been a home to breeding flamingos, the BBC reported, with their numbers steadily increasing from the time of the sanctuary's inception. By 2007, 10,000 to 12,000 flamingo pairs were estimated to use the site. Because flamingos have a lifespan of roughly 40 years, one missed breeding season was not likely to substantially harm the population, and reports emerged of increased flamingo sightings on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Meanwhile, the salt works was expected to reinstate some salt production, and potential new owners hoped to refill Etang du Fangassier.



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