The Dead Sea is still alive — in an international competition to name the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World.”
The body of water, lowest in altitude on the planet and one of the highest in salt content, which borders on Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, is among 77 sites still under consideration for the Internet contest (new7wonders.com), following the Palestinian Authority’s agreement last week to co-sponsor the candidacy.
The Dead Sea is the only site in Israel or the Middle East that has advanced from the original 261.
Twenty-eight sites were chosen to continue in online voting that started July 22. More than a billion people around the world are expected to take part in the selection process that ends in 2011, according to competition organizers.
Votes can be cast on the Web site of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, goisrael.com.
The Dead Sea’s ongoing candidacy is seen as a tourism boost for the area, and can raise awareness about its precarious ecological future.
“Winning in such a competition means a lot [not only] in terms of tourism, but also about caring for the environment,” says Gura Berger, public relations spokesman for the Megillot Dead Sea Regional Council, Israeli sponsor of the Dead Sea candidacy. “If we win, it means that we care where we live … and this is the real victory.”
Called Yam HaMelech (the Salt Sea) in Hebrew, its hypersalinity makes life in its water impossible — only bacteria, algae and microbial fungi can survive there. And minimal annual rainfall combined with a decreased flow from the Jordan River has caused a drastic shrinkage of its shores in recent decades. The water level has decreased three feet a year over the last 30 years.
Barring major changes, the Dead Sea will be dry by 2050, scientists predict.
The World Economic Forum, meeting in Jordan in May, announced plans, with tentative approval of the World Bank, to construct a canal that will convey seawater to the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, desalinated along the way. The anticipated completion date of the project is 2017.
Other contenders for the Natural Wonders title include the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.