Once one of the largest saltwater lakes on earth, Lake Oroumieh in northwestern Iran has shrunk to 80 percent to just 1,000 kilometres.
According to experts, this is due to climate change, irrigation for surrounding farmland and the construction of dams on feeding rivers. It’s feared the the lake could completely disappear within two years if nothing is done.
“In the past, when the lake was alive, there were fantastic views and a lot of tourists came here. There was a rich wildlife and migratory birds used to stop here – the view was amazing,” says local taxi driver Yahya Bolouri.
Now, the ships are rusting in the mud.
According to figures compiled by the local environmental office, only 5 percent of the water remains. Environmentalists are warning that the dried salt could poison valuable agricultural lands around the lake, and represent a serious health hasard for the three million people who live in the area.
“We are deeply shocked and sad to see what’s happened to the lake. We were here just a few years ago and it wasn’t in such a bad condition. It’s very upsetting,” says Mrs Aghadashi, a local resident.
“Last night, when we were driving along the road and saw the sunset, we thought that what we saw was a reflection of the sun on the water – we had no idea it was a salt desert,” says her husband.
Salt-covered rocks – once deep under water – now dot this barren desert. Researchers nationwide are working on solutions to save Oroumieh’s dying lake. These include raising public awareness, encouraging farmers to abandon wasteful irrigation practices from sources feeding the lake and growing crops that consume less water.