EIN GEDI, Israel, (Reuters) - Athletes and eco-activists swam across the Dead Sea on Tuesday, the first people to thrash their way over a body of water so salty that it poisons anyone who drinks it.
The swimmers crossed from Jordan to Israel to raise awareness of what they said was an environmental disaster that has shrunk the inland lake’s surface by a third in 30 years.
The wore snorkels and face masks to stop the water - around 10 times saltier than the regular sea - from touching their eyes or entering their lungs during the seven-hour crawl.
A medical team accompanied the 28 swimmers, because ingestion of Dead Sea water can be fatal if not treated immediately, organizers said.
“This was unlike anything I’ve ever done,” said Kim Chambers, 39, a renowned open-water swimmer from New Zealand.
The few drops of water that touched her eyes felt like acid she said. The crossing through water so salty and buoyant that it won’t let you sink was challenging.
“The swim took incredible teamwork. We had unprecedented diplomatic support from Israel and Jordan to make it happen. That’s what’s needed to bring attention to an issue that needs attention right now,” she said.
The sea which is mentioned in the Bible sits at the lowest point on Earth.
Environmental group EcoPeace Middle East, one of the organizers of the 15-km (9-mile) swim, said it had receded by about 25 meters (80 ft) over the past three decades alone.
The group blames Israeli and Jordanian mining, creating evaporation ponds from which minerals are extracted, and the diversion by Israel, Jordan and Syria of Jordan River water that feeds into the lake.
EcoPeace Middle East, whose members include Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians, said the event was aimed at highlighting the Dead Sea’s plight and to urge government action to save the natural wonder, a popular tourist attraction.
“We see the life-threatening challenge of the swim as parallel to the challenges facing the Dead Sea,” Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, said in a statement.
The Dead Sea, about 425 meters (1,400 feet) below sea level, is bordered by Israel, Jordan and the occupied West Bank.
Many visitors came for the therapeutic properties associated with its mineral-rich waters, and resort hotels have been built along the Israeli and Jordanian shores.
Additional reporting by Luke Baker; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Heavens