This week, 25 open water swimmers endured seven hours paddling throught the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea to draw world attention to the environmental degradation of that three million year old lake. Equipped with facemasks and snorkels specifically designed to protect them from the mineral-rich water, they dove in on the Jordan shoreline, and emerged in Israel. Artist Spencer Tunick lured hundreds into the sea for an eco-float, but this was the first time swimmers traversed the full width of one of the earth’s saltiest waterbodies.“We’re here for the first ever Dead Sea swim challenge with 25 swimmers that come from all over the world to send out a clear message to save the Dead Sea, which is shrinking today at an alarming rate,” announced Mira Edelstein from the environmental group EcoPeace at the start of the swim.
Over the last 30 years, the water level of the Dead Sea has dropped by more than 25 meters (82 feet). The Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth at 423 meters (1,388 feet) below sea level, has shrunk significantly in recent decades, attributable to unsustainable water management and over-exploitation of its mineral content. Degradation began in the 1960s when Israel, Jordan and Syria began to divert water from the lake’s main tributary, the Jordan River, for irrigation. An estimated 90 percent of the waters that histroically fed the Dead Sea are now being diverted by surrounding nations.
Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East co-director, said the event was “a global call to save this amazing sea.”
Dead Sea shorelines touch Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli territories. Although locals and tourists from all three populations bathe in the sea, swimming across its entirety has never before been done. At dawn on November 15th, the swimmers set sail from Ein Gedi in Israel to Wadi Mujib in Jordan. They then began swimming the 17 kilometer (11 mile) course back to Israel, accompanied by medical support vessels, as the water can be deadly if ingested.
Only three swimmers failed to finish, due largely to dehydration. Four others swimmers took breaks on the support boat, including Palestinian lifeguard Yussuf Matari, 61, who was treated with IV fluids before resuming his swim. In a show o solidarity and sportsmanship, those who approached the finish first waited offshore so all could complete the race together.
“This was a challenge, not a race,” said Jean Craven, a founder of “Madswimmer,” a South African charity that participates in open water swims around the world to raise funds for children’s projects. “It was really great to see the camaraderie, you know, everyone trying to bring the slowest swimmers along with them.”
Learn more at the event website (link here) which paints a clear picture of why this natural and historical wonder warrants world attention:
- With its surface and shorelines at 423 m (1,388 ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea is Earth’s lowest elevation on land.
- At 377 m (1,237 ft) deep, it’s the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. Salt concentration in the Dead Sea is 33.7%. Compare that to the Mediterranean Sea, which is between 3.5% and 3.9%. Its saline levels are 8.6 times that of ocean water.
- 800 million cubic meters of water per year is needed to halt its continued deterioration
The event was co-sponsored by the Tamar Regional Council, EcoPeace Middle East, and World Open Water Swim Association.
More than 4,000 sinkholes have also formed along the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian coasts since the 1980s, according to Israeli research, with more than 400 per year in recent years.