In the north-west of Iran stretches one of its wonders, Lake Urmia. One of the largest salt lakes on Earth, it has shrunk dramatically enough in the past decades to resemble a vast white barren land. __Laurece Cornet
Poor agricultural management and a frantic rush for development are responsible for the lake’s desiccation, which represents a loss of nearly 90% of its original surface since the 1970’s. The lake was protected as a national park by Iranian Department of Environment and it was one of the most famous international wetlands registered in The Ramsar Convention in 1971. There are 102 islands in the lake which serve as home to a wide variety of reptiles, mammals, and birds. The lake used to be a stopover for migratory birds in the winter in West Asia and 200 species of birds had been identified and registered. Historically, the lake attracted migratory birds including flamingos, pelicans, ducks and egrets. It’s drying up, or desiccation, is undermining the local food web, especially by destroying one of the world’s largest natural habitats of the brine shrimp Artemia, a hardy species that can tolerate salinity levels of 340 grams per litre, more than eight times saltier than ocean water. Artemia is a genus of aquatic crustaceans known as brine shrimp. Artemia, the only genus in the family Artemiidae, has changed little externally since the Triassic period. Today Artemia Urmianas are about to become extinct and they won’t be existing in the near future. If the lake dries up an estimated 18 million people would be affected directly by the drought of the lake. Effects on humans are perhaps even more complicated. The tourism sector has clearly lost out. While the lake once attracted visitors from near and far, some believing in its therapeutic properties, Urmia has turned into a vast salt-white barren land with beached boats serving as a striking image of what the future may hold. Desiccation will increase the frequency of salt storms that sweep across the exposed lakebed, diminishing the productivity of surrounding agricultural lands and encouraging farmers to move away. Poor air, land, and water quality all have serious health effects including respiratory and eye diseases. The results of this investigation, which recently appeared in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, revealed that in September 2014 the lake’s surface area was about 12% of its average size in the 1970s, a far bigger fall than previously realized. The research undermines any notion of a crisis caused primarily by climate changes. It shows that the pattern of droughts in the region has not changed significantly, and that Lake Urmia survived more severe droughts in the past.