The Dead Sea is all kinds of things – a natural wonder, the lowest place on earth, its saltiest waterbody and a fabulous place to schmear on some mud and feel all rejuvenated. It’s also technically a lake.
But most importantly, it’s fast disappearing.
Back in the 1930s, the Dead Sea spread over 385 square miles. Nowadays, it only reaches 250. The drop in sea level, according to Israel’s Water Authority, is the result of two main factors: the diversion of water sources and mineral extraction.
In the past, water from the Jordan River and its tributary, the Yarmouk River, flowed south and filled up the Dead Sea. In the past few decades, however, dams were built in Israel, Syria and Jordan, in effect almost completely preventing the flow of water into the salty lake.
If that wasn’t trouble enough, the pumping carried out by the Israeli and Jordanian mineral factories on both its shores has further exacerbated decreasing water levels.
As a result, the Dead Sea’s water level has been dropping at an astounding rate of three feet a year.
This doesn’t come as a complete surprise to visitors to the area, who from year to year have to cross more and more land to make it to the water. The lifeguard shacks that were once located on the water’s edge now stand abandoned on rocky stretches of shore as a stark reminder of the receding waterline.
This, in fact, is “an ongoing ecological disaster generated by human activity,” says EcoPeace Middle East, an NGO that brings together Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian environmentalists. This is particularly poignant in the geologically and environmentally unique Dead Sea, which is home to rare and special animals, vegetation and geological phenomena.
What can be done to stop the Dead Sea from retreating even farther? According to EcoPeace, enabling additional water flow into the lower Jordan River and the Dead Sea and reducing the Israeli and Jordanian mineral industries’ use of Dead Sea water could stop the natural wonder from shrinking and allow us all to enjoy its beauty in years to come.