Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life and Death at Salton Sea

Date: December 28, 2012
Place: Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, California
Difficulty: easy
Salton Sea, a view to the north from Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR
The water of Salton Sea bring life to a large desert area, where it had supported and still supports rich plant and wildlife as well as human settlements throughout its existence period. At Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR we enjoyed viewing many of the bird species that make this sea their home, throughout the year or just for the winter, or make it a rest stop on their migration.
After leaving SBSSNWR we continued north along the eastern shores of Salton Sea, and in the little town of Bombay Beach we stopped and went for a walk on the beach.
A salt crusted field lies between the town and the beach
Salton Sea is a periodical lake. It is fed by washes from the surrounding mountains, but its main body of water originates from flooding of the Colorado River. The Salton Basin was formed and dried numerous times throughout its geological history. The latest flooding and the creation of nowadays Salton Sea happened in 1905, with unintentional human mediation, when an irrigation canal that diverted the water of Colorado River to irrigate fields was breached. This flooding was a major prompt for the Colorado River damming.
Someone went shopping for salt?
Being a basin with no outlet, the salts remain in Salton Sea and with the Colorado River under control, no more unexpected flooding are expected. Therefore, water level continuously drops and water salinity continuously increase. It still supports aquatic life so is not yet a dead sea, but it is going in that direction.
The white-crusted beach at Bombay Beach
There is no specific trail there. It was all about walking on the beach for however long we wanted. There were very few people there so we literally had the beach to ourselves.The chikas soon found an interesting play thing - some mummified fish stranded of the beach. There were plenty of them around. 
This was once a living Tilapia
The ground under our feet felt course and our footsteps made loud crunching sounds as we walked on the beach. It didn't feel or sound like a mere salt crust. At some point I knelt to check the ground more closely and discovered the disturbing truth: we were walking on a thick layer of fish bones.
A mat of bones
Not just in a small area. Everywhere!
Not the work of local fishers but evidence of a large-scale calamity that befell these fish.
That evening I searched online and found that the fish disaster had happened just a few month before. The mass death was attributed to the drop of oxygen levels in the water due to a prolonged heat wave in the area. The stench of the rotting fish, it said, was so strong that it could be smelled at Los Angeles.
A sea of dead
I was glad we had missed these odors. 
Not just dead fish: the mark of man.
We had stopped at Bombay Beach with the idea of looking for more birds but there weren't that many there. Just a few cormorants and gulls. The sun was already setting so we returned to our car and drove north to Palm Springs, for the third part of our winter vacation.
Seagulls at Salton Sea


  1. Replies
    1. I guess so. Though it is part of the cycle that makes that place. Now, of course, with the damming of the Colorado River, Th area isn't likely to flood again unless people facilitate it on purpose. Still, a fascinating place it is.

  2. אני זוכרת שסיפרת לי על כל זה. לא יאומן.

    1. Very disturbing, that's what I felt about it. But interesting nontheless.