Swimmers risk death to save the Dead Sea

dead seaIn two weeks, a team of international athletes will attempt a world first by swimming across the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth, at the planet’s lowest point. The sea, which is technically a lake, resonates with deep historical and spiritual significance that partners perfectly with environmental activism. This risky swim aims to rehabilitate what Israeli entrepreneur and swimmer Oded Rahav calls our reverse “Himilaya”.

On November 15, Jordanian and Israeli swimmers will join others from as far away as New Zealand on a cross-sea swim led by Israeli businessman Udi Erell. An entrepreneur in the shipping industry, Erell is an open water marathon swimmer. He also established the Cyprus Israel Swim, a relay that raised awareness about ocean pollution.

Erell (pictured below) was born near the Dead Sea, and shares a special connection with it. Throughout much of the 1940’s, his parents lived in a hut near the northern shoreline while his father managed transportation for the potash plant at the southern town of Sodom, a time described by his parents as the happiest of their lives.

dead sea swimIn October 2014, he organized the Cyprus Israel Swim, where six swimmers covered 380 kilometers of open sea in a relay that lasted over 123 hours to promote awareness for cleaner seas. Seeking a new challenge, he hatched the idea to swim across the Dead Sea while attending a conference on the Dead Sea Works at Ein Gedi.

With enthusiastic support from swimmers from both shores of the sea, he immediately set to work on an action plan. An immediate challenge was securing government permissions to cross the sea, which requires crossing from Jordan to Israel, no easy task in this politically stressed region.

Next came the medical matter of minimizing risks to swimmers immersed in waters that are roughly 35% saline, about 10 times saltier than an ocean. Consider that these waters – which spit out natural salt cubes – can quickly convert a fabric dress into a crystalline sculpture.

Eyes must be protected and water ingestion can cause instant suffocation, so a site-specific medical support team will follow the athletes who will swim in full face masks. The entire event will take up about seven hours to complete. Three trial runs have been conducted to test swimmer endurance in these inhospitable conditions.

The team of more than a dozen swimmers see the event as a call for action. The event website states “one must do the outmost in order to make a change for the better. It is our responsibility, it is on our watch that the sea is shrinking, and there is no one else to take action. We hope that this mission and its outcomes will prevail for each and every one of us on planet earth.”

shrinking dead sea

The event aims to incite governments to strike a fairer balance of interests that would result in stabilizing the Dead Sea and maintaining its natural integrity. Remedies include better regulation of mineral extraction industries and mandated investment in water-saving technology. Nations must cooperate to release more water into the Jordan River to replenish the river and its terminal lake, the Dead Sea. The goal is to return 800 million cubic meters of water back into the sea – the least volume that needed to halt lowering sea levels.

Find out more about the Dead Sea Swim Challenge and how you can support it on their website (link here).

Image of Dead Sea from NASA; Udi Erell image from EcoPeace Middle East.

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