Lake Masazyr in its pink color given by the iodine salts present in the water and by particular microorganisms – photo by Shahla Abbakirova
Lake Masazyr is a natural wonder, characterized by the healing properties of its mud and its pink color. Today carelessness and human negligence put its precious habitat at risk
(Originally posted by Chai Khana )
Lake Masazyr in Azerbaijan is one of the country’s most captivating natural wonders. One of the very rare pink lakes in the world, which changes color depending on the season, time of day or weather conditions. However conservationists warn that seepage from sewage and sewage, as well as general neglect, is damaging the lake and surrounding habitat.
The lake, located 20 kilometers from the capital Baku, was once used for spa treatments: people bathed in mud to treat bronchitis, nervous system disorders, skin and joint diseases. For generations the locals, some of whom still call it by its old name “Shor” (şor – “salty” in Azeri), have relied on it for salt, which was used for cooking, preserving food or, when things became difficult, to barter it in exchange for basic necessities.
Harvesting salt in Lake Masazyr – photo by Shahla Abbakirova
“Before the 1990s people collected salt in a limited way, for personal use due to storage difficulties and they didn’t sell it or use it for business, as it was not worth the money,” says Lala Abuzarova. Today, Lake Masazyr has become one of the country’s leading salt producers thanks in large part to a salt refinery built nearby in 2010. However, locals are no longer allowed to harvest salt from its shores for their own use.
The number of people living near the lake has slowly increased, affecting the local environment. The process began in the late 1980s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some families displaced during the Armenian-Azerbaijan war have settled in the area, and the population has increased rapidly in the 21st century. Once famed for the healing properties of its mud and nearby almond groves, Lake Masazyr is now a completely different landscape due to the presence of new suburbs that have replaced the almond trees, such as Villa Badam (Villa of the Almonds) and the construction of a metal fence that prevents access to the lake.
“Increased construction in the areas surrounding the lake and the increasing number of hard surfaces (asphalt and concrete) without adequate drainage, as well as the construction of the sewage system, have reduced the absorption of rainfall and groundwater entering the lake ”notes environmentalist Dr. Rovshan Abbasov. “This has a negative effect on the water flow of the lake and therefore there is a danger of the lake drying up.”
In recent years, new sewage pipes have been installed in the two nearest villages – Masazyr and Novkhany – but they restrict the natural flow of water and lead to sewage being poured into the lake. In addition, other wastewater from nearby Lake Binagadi tar pits is pumped into Lake Masazyr, adding to the pollution.
Waste from Binagadi Tar Pits – photo by Shahla Abbakirova
Dr. Abbasov says the best solution to avoid possible drying up of the lake is to clean it of sewage – the current main source of water – and allow the clean water to flow back into Lake Masazyr. However, he adds that for generations the lake has been considered a resource to be exploited, not a treasure to be preserved.
The villagers of Novkhany regret the loss of access to the lake, which they consider part of their village. Many of them remember that the salt from the lake helped their families during the difficult years but today they are deprived of it.
Najiba Karimova who once wrote as a journalist for various newspapers under the pseudonym “Shorlu” (from Shor) says that the local environment has been in bad shape since the late 1980s when sewage started leaking into the lake. “The villagers of Novkhany are so disappointed with the state of the lake, fenced off and with polluted water, that they refuse to look at it these days or even buy the salt produced from it,” Najiba says.
Azer Hadiyev, a salt excavator from Masazyr, says the weather is changing. “It used to be warmest in May. It should already be hot enough for the water to evaporate and the salt to emerge; on top of that, it hasn’t rained enough this year in the right time. In years when it rains a lot in January- February, then in April-May the climate is warmer and there is already a good production.”
Rais Huseynbalayev, a second generation salt digger from the village of Masazyr, still works in the industry with his family. A salt refinery recruited him as a team leader responsible for selecting miners, supervising equipment, and collecting and delivering salt to the factory.
Azer Hadiyev and Rais Huseynbalayev together with his son and grandson
they are preparing a machinery to extract the salt in the lake – photo by Shahla Abbakirova
“Lake Masazyr is a place where the tragedy of state-managed assets is seen,” notes Dr. Rovshan Abbasov. “The only thought was the exploitation of the salt and the health of the lake and the cultural values of the ecosystem of the lake were ignored. The tragedy will not end if the lake continues to lose its value.”
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