The Dead Sea is drying up because it no longer receives enough water from the Jordan River and other sources to offset the rapid evaporation caused by Israel’s arid climate. To save the Dead Sea from going completely dry within just a few decades, a sustainable balance between water flowing in and evaporating out will have to be restored.
Lying at the lowest point on the earth—a remarkable 417m (1,367 ft.) below sea level—the Dead Sea is anything but dead. Granted, no fish live in this salt-saturated inland lake, less than an hour’s drive from Jerusalem, but certain green algae do just fine, plus lots of red archaebacteria. The water looks slightly greenish, and also milky from all its rich minerals—magnesium, calcium, bromine, potassium. For centuries Dead Sea mud has been touted for its healing powers.
But while the Dead Sea is fed by water from several sources, notably the Jordan River, water doesn’t flow out, it just evaporates. And with Jordan River waters increasingly diverted to irrigation projects upstream, there isn’t enough water flowing in these days to offset the rapid evaporation caused by this dry climate. Rocky coves all along the shore are edged with snowy encrustations of salt, and lately, the water level has been dropping at the alarming rate of a meter (3 ft.) every year. Within. 3 decades, the Dead Sea could be completely dry.
And with it would go an incredible, unique experience. The sensation of floating in the Dead Sea is so freaky, you keep testing it again and again—releasing your body into that incredibly saline water and popping up to the surface, as buoyant as if you were weightless. Not only that, the Dead Sea air contains 10% more oxygen than normal, making you feel relaxed and energized. It’s hot (up to 107°F/41°C in summer) but dry, and thanks to an extra layer of atmosphere caused by evaporation, the sun’s UV rays are filtered, making it a fairly safe place to sunbathe.
Although the desert ridges around the sea look sand scoured and fierce, along the lakeside highway you’ll find a few lush oases, many of them with sulfur hot springs that give rise to a booming spa industry. Two main beach areas thrive along the Israeli shore: one at Ein Gedi, where you’ll find a rather crowded public beach, a kibbutz with a good hotel and spa, and a botanic garden planted with rare trees and shrubs from all over the world. At Ein Gedi kibbutz, you can book a desert jeep safari, a Bedouin feast in a tent, or an hour-long cruise on the Dead Sea in an eccentric wooden double-deck boat called Lot’s Wife. Further down the coast, past the ancient fortress of Masada, you’ll reach Ein Bokek, where there are several hotels and free public beaches.