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Lake Baikail’s One-of-a-Kind Species Are in Trouble

Jasmine Avie is a freelance writer from Louisiana. She focuses on environmental topics.

Is the End Nigh for Lake Baikal's Special Creatures?

Nestled amongst a scenic Siberian coastline is Lake Baikal, our world’s oldest, deepest, and notably majestic lake brimming with unique species found in Lake Baikal’s historic body alone. This lake is facing a problem that even its own elder Siberian waters cannot elude; humans. Humanity is doing irreversible damage to one of the world’s true wonders. That damage is hitting mother nature’s proudest lake the hardest when it comes to its aquatic wildlife. We have heard of the melting ice caps and we have begun to address energy usage, but what about the suffering beings that will be extinct thanks to humanity’s carelessness? The effects of consistently worsening climate change, as well as other human-produced issues, are causing the precious ecosystem of this lake to tilt off its very axis.

University of Nottingham and University College London have published their research regarding Lake Baikal’s wildlife’s danger. This study, published in PLOS ONE found that diatoms, also known as microscopic algae, have been rapidly disappearing. These diatoms are at the bottom of the food chain and their dissolution would disrupt the lake’s entire ecosystem. This environment holds one-fifth of the world’s freshwater and is composed of 75% exclusive beings. The worlds’ only legitimate freshwater seal is an inhabitant of this lake and the worsening conditions will lead to the eradication of the other endemic species. This dissipation is leading to the replacement of diatoms with algae that are found in various parts of the world and grow at a rapid rate.

This problem is aggravated by human disturbances from nearby settlements. These settlements bring issues like untreated sewage, which leads to eutrophication, which is another term for an overload of nutrients in the water. The balance is offset by this. Then, the situation is aggravated even more and worsened still with the steady warming from climate change. Since 1946, the region that the lake is located in has increased slowly but steadily. Although warming through the years of only 2.1° F in temperature may seem inconsequential, in reality, this has a domino effect that causes issues for the lake in numerous ways. For instance, one problem that has arisen is that the time period wherein the lake is known to be ice-free has lengthened. Down the road, this begins to affect the growth of the local plankton. Eventually, this issue worsening will lead to the entire food chain suffering terribly. The animals that are the highest on the food chain will eventually not even be able to eat efficiently, which will lead to their extinction.

In the lake’s north region, in the deep open waters, there is surprisingly not many findings that prove that these same issues are occurring. Nutrient pollution is certainly not impacting this area as of yet. The issues seem to be contained in the south basin.

Professor Mackay who works with the Department of Geography at University College London said of this interesting contrast: "Whilst there is currently no clear evidence for eutrophication (water quality deterioration) we know that increased nutrient inputs are having negative impacts in areas along Lake Baikal's shoreline from inadequate sewage treatment plants…” He states that the best indicator for future problems that may arise in open waters begins with the shoreline. This leads him to believe that quick action can and must be taken to prevent the anthropogenic pollution from claiming the open waters as well.

The solution that most scientists who have observed this problem seek to utilize in solving this issue of dying endemic diatoms is to find ways to lessen the pollution. Presently, there is no quick solution for the overbearing climate change that affects the lake. The unfavorable conditions of which the algae are meant to grow is becoming more unbalanced every day.

When it comes to the ancient Lake Baikal, which is 20% of Earth’s freshwater whilst maintaining creatures that will never be sustained on any other part of our entire planet, changes need to be done. The preservation of this special biodiversity is dependent upon conservation efforts. Although scientists say that there are possibly other stressors that are causing the upset of the food chain in Lake Baikal, the prevention of these issues begins and ends with more mindfulness from humans.

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© 2019 Jasmine Avie

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