Flamingo numbers are falling on the white plains of Chile’s lithium-rich Atacama desert, according to a study published in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B journal. Flamingos drink water in the areas to stay hydrated.
In the study, the decline of the flamingos is linked to the water extracted by mining firms to pump up liquid filled with lithium, which is used to make batteries for mobile phones, laptop computers, and electric vehicles.
Satellite imagery of mining ponds in the Atacama Desert was used to calculate how much water was extracted. Flamingo populations at the Atacama salt flat areas have declined by 12% in the last ten years. In other salt flats without mining, flamingo populations remained steady over the last decade.
“It is quite relevant because it shows that such an industry (lithium exploitation) is not sustainable, damaging the ecosystem,” Cristina Dorador, co-author of the study, said.
Lithium is an important element in today’s economic market, considering the importance of technology for humans. It is estimated that its usage will quadruple in the future.
Dorador added that the flamingos are also very important for Chile’s tourism: “The San Pedro de Atacama area is the second most visited by tourists in Chile, and most of them are motivated by the flamingos in the Atacama salt flat.”
“So, in the long run, (lithium exploitation) will also impact the touristic activity and the Atacama salt flat, a critical part of the Lica Antay culture. It is there where indigenous people have a wider view of the unbreakable bond with nature,” she added.