Ten years ago, 1,000 sinkholes could be seen up and down the coasts of the Dead Sea, prompting news articles to warn of a “looming environmental catastrophe.” Today, there are more than 3,000, according to ABC, and new sinkholes open every day.
“It’s nature’s revenge,” Gidon Bromberg of EcoPeace Middle East told ABC. “These sinkholes are a direct result of the inappropriate mismanagement of water resources in the region.”
Although scientists are not able to determine where or when a sinkhole will open, they do know that, in the Dead Sea region, they are created when freshwater and subterranean salt layers interact beneath the surface. As the Dead Sea’s shores decline, larges pockets of salt are left behind that, once dissolved, create an empty cavity that causes the surface to collapse.
“They could develop overnight. Or over time,” Bromberg told ABC. “Making them unpredictable. And very dangerous.”
Although there are no reports of deaths related to the sinkholes, the potential is there, as tens of thousands of people flock to the centuries-old tourist destination.
“Human intervention has just about killed the Dead Sea,” Alon Tal, professor in the Department of Desert Ecology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told Slate. “It will take extraordinary human measures — careful, wise intervention and positive regional cooperation — to save it.”
To stop the sinkholes, Bromberg said the Dead Sea will need to be stabilized with freshwater. Water supplied by the Jordan River flows at about 5 percent of its historic volume. “If nothing is done,” Bromberg said, “it’s only a matter of time until someone dies.”