Lake Van is the largest lake in Turkey and the fifth largest in Europe. Photo via Van Gölü Kirlenmesin (Don't Pollute Lake Van)
On a blustery winter's day last weekend, a small group of activists in eastern Turkey left notes on the doors of their shops and workplaces reading, "We are closed on account of a funeral." Then they bundled themselves up and headed down to the snowy shores of Lake Van to say last rites for the polluted body of water.
In what was apparently a variation on the traditional Islamic funeral prayer, an imam asked the congregated group, "How did you know Lake Van?" to which they responded, "We knew it as dirty." The imam, Sinan Aygül, continued, saying, "This funeral prayer is performed for our lake, for our fading hopes, and for us not being able to leave a clean lake for future generations."
Video via Bitlis Haber Ajansı (in Turkish)
The lake, Turkey's largest and one of the more popular tourist sites in the less-traveled eastern region, has become polluted through a combination of garbage dumping, erosion along deforested areas of its 530-kilometer-long coastline, and dirty streams flowing into it through nearby towns. The lake's water level has also dropped two meters between 1995 and 2008, likely due to global warming, concentrating the effect of pollution.
Turkish newspapers reported as far back as 2000 that "life in Lake Van is dying," and a 2004 study of water samples collected from different parts of the lake concluded that 40 percent of it was unsuitable for swimming. The pearl mullet, a fish found only in the region, is expected to go extinct within 10 to 15 years.
Imam Aygül reminisced fondly about childhood swims in Lake Van and said that the funeral rites were a last-ditch effort to awaken interest in saving it. Volunteers have held periodic cleanups but say they have been unable to get help from local officials. Via: Symbolic funeral prayer held in protest of pollution of Lake Van, Today's Zaman
More about lakes in (mostly) dire straits:
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Will The Great Lakes Be Another Aral Sea?
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Lake Algae Outbreak Sounds Green Alarm in China
The Case of the Disappearing Lake in Chile