People, Travel

Caspian, Lake or Sea

Caspian, Lake or SeaCaspian, Lake or Sea

At 370,000 sq km the Caspian or Darya-e Khazar is by far the world’s largest lake. Or is it? Its littoral states Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan do not see it as a lake. They think of it perhaps as a sea. This is more than mere semantics. Beyond this ‘who am I’ identity crisis lays graver concerns for the Caspian - deep environmental issues.

Under-sea mud volcanoes and oil vents add to the murky industrial effluent flowing in through its tributary rivers, notably the Volga. And at 26.5 meters below sea level, there’s no outlet from which pollution can escape.

Pollution and climate change are probably to blame for increasingly severe algae bloom, the vast annual growths of surface water-weeds which, in summer 2005, covered an astonishing 20,000 sq km of the Caspian.

Scientists are also worried by the appearance of a comb jellyfish Mnemiopsis Leydiyi whose explosive 1990’s reproduction in the Black Sea had threatened fish stocks there, according to the network of Exploring Tourism,

All this along with heavy over-fishing is a particular worry for the slow-growing Caspian sturgeon, which produces 95% of the world’s caviar, but is now facing possible extinction.

Between 1977 and 1994 Caspian Sea levels rose an astonishing 15 cm to 20 cm per year. Those beaches that survived are mostly grey, but holiday-makers don’t seem to mind too much. There, they can have all the rain they want. For people from the desert plateau, the Caspian coast’s regular downpours are exotic.