The Slow Death of Lake Urmia

Today Terra Informa leaves the comfort of home for a look at some environmental issues from overseas. We begin by talking to members of the Azerbaijani community about the decline of Lake Urmia in Iran. The lake is home to more than 200 species of birds, and of critical importance to local people, but its water is quickly retreating. And if it disappears, the worst is yet to come. We talk to organizations that are working to save the lake about what’s happening, and what can be done to reverse the trend. In the second half of the show, we take a trip to the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania where we talk to an American researcher who is studying the region’s bats. She tells us about the area’s incredible biodiversity and the role of bats in the ecosystem. And as always, we start things off with a run down of the week’s environmental news headlines.

Download this week’s show.

Salt crystals growing on the shore of Lake Urmia in Iran. Photo by Ehsan Mahdiyan.

Iran’s Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia is one of the largest salt lakes in the world. Located in Iran, between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, it is a breeding ground for flamingos and one of the largest habitats of a salt-water shrimp. Lake Urmia is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It plays a crucial role in the economic, ecological and social health of the region. Currently, the lake is in danger of drying up. More than just an environmental problem, the deterioration of the lake could impact the 13 million inhabitants of the region. Terra Informa correspondent Kathryn Lennon talks to some members of Azerbaijanji communities in Edmonton and Vancouver to hear their concerns.

More on this story: Campaign to Save Lake Urmia, Lake Urmia appeal by the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)

The Biodiversity of Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains
Some of the most biodiverse places on the planet are the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. To get a sense of the value of these forests, Terra Informa made a visit to Tanzania, in East Africa. Here we found one scientist who spends her time studying the inner workings of the jungle. Carrie Seltzer is a PhD student from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Our correspondent followed Carrie on a night walk into the forest in search of bats and some wisdom on biodiversity. David Kaczan filed this report from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

News Headlines
On the west coast, public consultations on the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline have begun. In Kitimat, locals voiced strong opposition to the project. At the same time, the federal government was being accused of trying to push through approval of the project. The day before hearings began, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver wrote in an open letter that, environmental and other radical groups “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” Both he and Prime Minister Harper raised concerns that foreign groups were funding opposition to the project.

More on this story: CBC News (1), CBC News (2), CTV News, Globe and Mail

On Saturday, over 100 people gathered in Halifax to protest against hydraulic fracking. The rally was part of a provincial day of action against the controversial oil and gas extraction technique. Speakers from Occupy Nova Scotia and a wide range of environmental groups were on hand, calling for tougher regulations on the petroleum industry. Some 250 km to the east, another group of people gathered at the Canso Causeway which links Cape Breton to the mainland. They were voicing their opposition to exploratory drilling that has been approved for Lake Ainslie. They worry that while fracking has not yet been authorized for the lake, it may only be a matter of time.

More on this story: Halifax Media Co-op, Chronicle Herald, Cape Breton Post, CBC News

A team of Canadian scientists say they’ve discovered the reason for sharp declines in two species of boreal ducks. Over the past 30 years, populations of scaups have dropped by 40% and scoters have fallen by 60%. The scientists found that global warming has resulted in spring arriving in the boreal forest 11 days earlier than it did in the 1970s. The ducks time their migrations precisely so that they reach their summer habitat as insects are emerging, but now they’re arriving too late. The loss of food means that the ducks are producing fewer young. Not all ducks are affected though. Some species, like the mallard, are able to adapt the timing of their migrations to the changing climate.

More on this story: CBC News, Scientific article in Global Change Biology,

One comment

  1. Thank you for trying to bring attention to this grave global problem. I used to swim in that lake as a child and almost drowned once. Thank god for the high salt content.
    Eating cucumbers dipped in the salt water was one of the local’s favorite snacks.
    Azeris and the Azerbaijani regions: East and West Azerbaijan, Zanjan, Ardabil, Qazvin and western Tehran. Azeris comprise somewhere between 25-40 percent of the population and are spread all over the country. The government does not keep demographic numbers on ethnic minorities.
    These are the rebel lands, the tough mountain people who have given birth to many Iranian heroes, poets, artists and religious leaders over the centuries. Both Azeris and Kurds have fought Tehran politically as well as militarily. They have paid a grave price for their heroics in pursuit of cultural autonomy. Economic and environmental devastation is all around in Kurdistan as well as Azeri regions. Lake Urmia has become a WMD in the hands of those who want to rid Iran of its ethnic heritage and impose only one very narrow point of view.

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