Lake Urmia, located in northwestern Iran, was once the sixth largest salt lake in the world and the largest in the Middle East. The lake was protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment and it was one of the most important international wetlands registered in The Ramsar Convention in 1971.

In its heyday, the lake was a biological hotspot. The lake was an essential stopover point for migratory birds in West Asia—200+ species of birds were identified in all. On the lake, there were 102 distinct islands, each of which served as a home to a wide variety of animals. The lake was even the natural habitat of Artemia Urmia, a unique species of saline shrimp.

But in the past decade, the lake has undergone a ravenous shrinking process. Today, almost 90% of the lake has dried up. This is due, in part, to drought, the digging of too many wells, increasing demand for agricultural water, climate change and, most of all, bad management. To take just one example: a 15-km long causeway bridge was built straight across the lake. Despite warnings that this would have catastrophic environmental consequences, the building was completed in 2008, dividing the lake in two separated halves and further exacerbating the drying process.

If the lake dries up completely, this would not only devastate the millions of lakeshore residents but would have an effect on the ~80 million people living within 500 km. People ranging from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Iran would all feel some consequence. This is not to mention the countless animal species which would be put at grave risk. In short, the social, environmental and economic consequences of the tragedy are growing like a stain.

The small number of photos here tell the story of a people who will no longer have a lake.

—LensCulture


Editors’ Note: Lake Urmia has been a sensitive subject in Iranian politics for years. As recently as 2011, environmental protestors were jailed en masse for drawing attention to the catastrophic situation. This project is the result of a collective undertaking of Iranian photographers who hope to raise awareness about this tragic story.