Lake Urmia, Iran – spectacular salt lake? or ecological disaster?


Lake Urmia – a.k.a Lake Orumiyeh – in northwest Iran, was once one of largest lakes in the world. In the last 40 years the lake’s size has shrunk by over 90%.

And it’s all due to human interference.

Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The reduction in lake size can be attributed to upstream water diversion for dams and irrigation systems.

A similar fate to that of the much-diminished Aral Sea.

Lake Urmia, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The drop in water level has led to a massive spike in salinity. Salt particles now cover large parts of the old lake bed.

During high winds the salt particles blow inland, contaminating soils and reducing the productivity of farmland.

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The water that remains is too salty to support fish life, although there are a few crustacean species that thrive in it.

Lake Urmia Bridge

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Construction of Lake Urmia Bridge and the causeway that goes along with it has effectively cut the lake in two.

While the bridge is a significant convenience for those travelling between the cities of Urmia and Tabriz, it has significantly restricted water movement within the lake and contributed to the lake’s overall degradation.

UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Despite the loss in lake size, the waterbody remains an important migratory bird habitat.

It’s both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a RAMSAR wetland.

However, the numbers of waterfowl that visit the lake are plummeting as lake health drops.

Lake Urmia, Iran

Photo credit: Benjamin White

It is feared that without drastic corrective measures Lake Urmia will dry up completely.

Several agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), are helping Iran to rehabilitate the lake.

Salt lake, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The salt pans of Lake Urmia are spectacular to look at, but overall I think I’d rather the lake was fit and  healthy.

Hopefully those looking after the lake will manage to turn things around and in the not too distant future it will once again support a thriving ecosystem.

Lake Urmia, Iran

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Practical information and how to reach Lake Urmia:

Lake Urmia is approximately 100km from Tabriz (1.5 – 2 hour drive). The best way to get there is by taxi or private car. A trip to the lake can be combined with a visit to Kandovan to make a full day excursion. More transport info here.


More on northern Iran:

Babak Castle – windswept mountaintop stronghold of Azeri rebel leader

Takht-e Soleyman – royal Zoroastrian sanctuary and fire temple

Kandovan – it’s Cappadocia minus the tourists

Rainbow Mountains, Tabriz – are there rainbows? or is it all a sham? 


Posts on western Iran:

The Historic Hydraulic System of Shushtar

Bisotun – cliff inscription of Darius the Great

Chogha Zanbil – the original ziggurat


Posts on Iran:

Naqsh-e Rustam – unearthly cliff tombs of the Achaemenid emperors

Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae

Chak Chak – holiest of holy sites for Zoroastrians

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