Mohammed Qurashi/AFP/Getty Images
BEIRUT (CNN) – The Dead Sea is shrinking due to a melt-water outflow from the mountain range that runs along the Sea’s natural border, raising concerns that tourism to the UNESCO World Heritage Site will dwindle.
A survey by the Geological Survey of Jordan revealed that the valley is losing up to 60 million cubic meters of water a year, an area the size of the UK, says the state-run Petra Tourism Company.
“Over the last 10 years, Jordan has been witnessing the spectacular shrinking of the Dead Sea. A service-based economy brought us an estimated 9 million tourists each year, but if the sea is diminishing at the rate of today, we may not see the same numbers any more,” said Richard Nassar, Executive Director of the Petra Tourism Company.
Due to the rising sea level, blue and yellow sand beneath the surface of the Dead Sea is beginning to fade.
The principle reason for the loss of the Dead Sea is from a glacier melting in a part of the high mountain region which sits on the Sea’s border. The Jordan River, which is part of the Dead Sea’s border, disappears through a canyon.
This rising shoreline has lowered the water level of the Dead Sea by a meter every year since 2003, according to Ross Byrd, an American geologist and expert in the impact of climate change on Jordan.
Because the Jordan River is a major water source for Jordan, the closure of the canyon is leading to a decline in fish stock and farmers are unable to harvest their crops, creating hunger.
“The coastline in the Jordanian High Nature Reserve is disappearing at an alarming rate and farmers have had to replant with fresh desert grasses to thrive in the new dry climate,” says Nassar.
Dead Sea’ drastic shrinking could have a devastating impact on the country’s economy. Visitors to the Dead Sea are responsible for 55% of the country’s foreign tourism.
Hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are closed during the summer because of the lack of water. About 200 families depend on the Dead Sea for their livelihood, and they are hit the hardest if tourism drops.
Jordan has begun a $70m, five-year project to protect the Dead Sea, according to the Petra Tourism Company. In November 2018, the Dubai Waterfront Company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jordan Ministry of Environment to build a Doha Crystalline Marine Greenhouse to generate power for plants in the Dead Sea.
Greenhouses have proven successful in Pakistan, Germany and Scotland in pumping seawater to submerge sand dunes and improve habitats for rare species.
The Israeli Nature and Parks Authority and Russian group UNESCO are also working on a climate change plan to restore ancient sites, flora and fauna in the Jordan Valley.
Meanwhile, the US is constructing a giant seawater desalination plant near the Dead Sea to increase water supply. The United Arab Emirates has already built plants in Dubai to protect the Dead Sea from extreme climate change.
Egypt is using sea water to restore lost freshwater in its high desert areas.