• Mike Leibsohn

A Sea That Might Be Dead

The Dead Sea is truly a wonder of the natural world; it is the lowest place on Earth and its waters have such a high concentration of salts and minerals that it can sustain no life whatsoever. Throughout history both ancient and modern, locals and tourists alike have flocked to its shores to bask in the beauty and tranquility that abound here, and also to experience the alleged healing powers of the environs. The unique combination of atmospheric pressure, dry air, and extremely high mineral content has been said to cure a wide range of ailments, including respiratory and skin disorders. The famous King Herod built his famous winter palace here, on the cliff face of Masada overlooking the northern Dead Sea, over two thousand years ago; the dry desert climate has preserved the ruins magnificently. First-time visitors are often brought to giggles by the expectedly odd feeling of floating so easily in the heavy water; classic photo ops include reading a book or newspaper, and flashing a good old-fashioned “two thumbs up”. One may then find a waterside mud pit and proceed to slather thick layers over all exposed body parts; let the mud dry for about 20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly with fresh water. The result? Skin as soft as the finest imaginable silk for the next several days. A pre-dawn hike up the mountain fortress of Masada offers one of the most breathtaking sunrises anywhere in Israel; enjoy the view while touring the impressive remains of a once-bustling royal village. After hiking down the treacherous Snake Path, the next stop is nearby Ein Gedi, a true desert oasis complete with natural flowing springs forming waterfalls and picturesque swimming holes.

Unfortunately, however, this magical place is in severe danger of imminent extinction, due mainly to two reasons. Over the last one hundred years, humans have begun diverting large quantities of the Jordan River’s flow to be used for local purposes farther north, mostly agriculture and drinking water. In addition, huge factories pump water through their facilities in order to extract the minerals necessary for a wide range of world-famous beauty and skin care products. This dual-edged sword of removing water and preventing its replacement by natural processes has led to the increasingly fast-paced recession of the shoreline; the hotels and spas that once lined the water’s edge now sit several hundred meters away, accessed by various shuttles and trams. Various plans have been proposed to restore the Dead Sea to its former glory, including a pipeline that would transport water from the Red Sea in the south. However, do to regional squabbling and a general lack of willingness to seriously commit the necessary resources, the situation continues to worsen instead of showing any indications of reversal. If we allow this greedy and selfish behavior to continue, then the number of generations that will live to enjoy this truly awe-inspiring natural wonder can literally be counted on one finger.


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