The Dead Sea is drying out

Story highlights

  • The Dead Sea is shrinking, and humans are largely to blame
  • Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million deal to stabilize the popular salt lake

(CNN)Something's happening at the lowest point on our planet, some 1,388 feet below sea level.

The Dead Sea, a salt lake nestled by Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, is shrinking at an alarming rate -- about 3.3 feet per year, according to the environmentalist group EcoPeace Middle East. And human actions are largely to blame.
    "It's not just like one country is punishing the Dead Sea; it's more like the whole region," said photographer Moritz Küstner, who visited the area in February to work on his series "The Dying Dead Sea."
    The Dead Sea needs water from the other natural sources surrounding it, such as the Jordan River basin. But around the 1960s, some of the water sources it relied upon were diverted. Israel, for instance, built a pipeline during that time so it could supply water throughout the country.
    Photographer Moritz Küstner
    Mineral extraction industries are another main reason the water levels are declining, experts say. The Dead Sea's minerals have been hailed for their therapeutic properties and can often be found in cosmetics and other consumer products.
    And then, of course, there's the Middle East's hot, dry climate, which makes it difficult for the lake to replenish itself.
    Last year, Israel and Jordan signed a $900 million deal in an effort to stabilize the Dead Sea's water levels. It entails building a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea so that both countries would be able to not only supply water to Israel and Jordan but also to pump much needed water -- some 300 million cubic meters annually -- into the Dead Sea.

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    "This is the most important and significant agreement since the peace treaty with Jordan (in 1994)," said Silvan Shalom, Israel's energy and water resources minister at the time. Whether the canal -- estimated to take three years to complete -- will work out positively and as planned remains to be seen.
    But for now, Küstner shows us that the Dead Sea remains very much a place of interest, with people from all over the world flocking there to swim in its salty waters.
    The Dead Sea, known as the Salt Sea in Hebrew, is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, with around 34% salinity. And because of what has been happening over the years, the salt is only getting saltier.
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    Earlier this month, nearly 30 marathon swimmers from around the world -- wanting to bring awareness to the falling water levels -- swam the nine-mile Dead Sea stretch from Jordan to Israel. They wore face masks to protect their eyes and mouths, but one swimmer still described the experience as being "like acid burning your eyeballs."
    "It's an unfriendly environment for people to live there or to stay there," Küstner said. "It's really salty and if you taste the Dead Sea, it's not tasting like salty water anymore. It's just tasting toxic."