Lake Baikal [Eurasia and Asia]
Lake Baikal is located in southern Siberia. The watershed consists of boreal forest and taiga. It has the distinction of being the oldest and deepest lake in the world, as well as being the larges freshwater lake in Asia. The lake is 1,637 meters deep and contains 23,000 cubic kilometers of water, or 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater. Above all, Lake Baikal is famous for its beautiful scenery and high level of biodiversity. There are 852 algae species alone, along with 1550 species and varieties of plants animals. Many of these organisms (1200 of the 1500 plants and animals) are endemic, meaning that they are unique to this particular region. The Baikal Seal (Phoca sibirica) is the only mammal in the lake.
Environmental concern has arisen over logging in the surrounding forests, acid deposition from nearby industrial areas, and pollution from over 100 factories on the shore. Most protest has been directed at a pulp and paper plant in Baykalsk at the southern end of the lake. Pollutants, especially chlorinated hydrocarbon compounds (dioxins and PCBs) and other components of industrial effluent, are still emitted and poured into the lake.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Lake Baikal as a member of its World Heritage list in 1996. UNESCO’s recommendations to the Russian government include legally protecting the lake, converting the plant to a nonpolluting industry, ending the logging of nearby forests, and improving environmental monitoring. Despite this, some people believe that the pollution poses little harm to the overall biodiversity, a view supported by a joint study of Russian and British scientists in 1998. As of 2001, the Russian government had not implemented UNESCO’s suggestions, although environmentalists are taking some action. They are trying to force the Baykalsk owners to pay for environmental damage in the courts, encouraging UNESCO to recognize the lake as an endangered site, and asking other countries for funding for monitoring and conversion of the plant.
Thinkquest Team "Fish," March 2005, Disclaimer and copyright information
Image source: Andrey Suknev, Boyd Norton