Salton Sea Food: Tasty Tilapia

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The Salton Sea in the 1930's Source: greetingsfromsaltonsea.com
The Salton Sea in the 1930’s Source: http://www.greetingsfromsaltonsea.com/

The Salton Sea has been many things to a lot of people. It has been a piece of post-apocalyptic landscape, an artist’s muse, and a lesson on water management and habitat restoration. At one point, it was a hot spot for vacations and was even one of the hottest fisheries in California. Imagine that, the Salton Sea as it is now once had enough fish in it that you could catch them without bait. Now, not so much, but that does not mean you cannot fish at the Salton Sea. There are even groups such as the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association that advocate fishing at the Salton Sea as a wholesome means of entertainment.

So the pressing question on everyone’s mind is “Can I eat fish from the Salton Sea?” More precisely, “Will eating fish from the Salton Sea kill me?”

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Fish Bones and Game of Thrones

The Salton Sea: once a prized weekend destination, now a dilapidated afterthought in the middle of the desert. The Sea lost its appeal to many people after it became highly saline and oxygen-deprived from agricultural run-off. These conditions lead to massive fish kills that created shores composed of fish bones and seasonal pungent odors. Today, the fate of the Sea is uncertain. On its current trajectory, with the impending reduction of water due to the Quantification Settlement Agreement and with no plan to prevent its demise, the Salton Sea will become an ecological disaster and public health burden. Here at Salton Sea Sense we all agree that something needs to be done about the Salton Sea. However, there is a lot of debate about who should be stepping up to take responsibility to make the decision and to fund restoration projects. The problem is there are so many different parties involved in the Salton Sea that it is impossible to determine who is most affected by the Sea and its fish bone beaches.

You could say that keeping track of all the stakeholders in the Salton Sea is almost as confusing as trying to keep track of all the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In honor of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, we give you: Game of Bones (cue theme song). Continue reading “Fish Bones and Game of Thrones”

Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium

Many of the predictions and concerns about the future of the Salton Sea are based on historical examples of other salt lakes around the world, and their impacts on local communities—some beneficial, and some disastrous. Three examples of highly saline terminal lakes, the Aral Sea, Owens Lake, and the Great Salt Lake, show some of the possible outcomes for the Salton Sea.

The drying of the Aral Sea has intense negative effects on communities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in terms of local economies, environments, and health. As the sea dried, dust storms and soil loss resulted in desertification of croplands and contamination of surface fresh water. [1] The shoreline retreated by miles, crippling the local economy, which was dependent on fishing and transportation. Due to extensive pesticide usage in the area, the dust from the Aral Sea contains DDT, PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals, which have been found at high levels in pregnant and nursing women in Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan. [2] Public health studies in the area have found widespread thyroid abnormalities, as well as lung malformations in children. [3]
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People and Prosperity

When we talk about the Salton Sea, the discussion often revolves around science, environment, and economics. How toxic is the water, exactly? Which types of birds rely on the sea’s existence? What is the price tag on implementing restoration projects? While these are all great conversations, we often forget the major and arguably most important factor: the role of people.

From afar, students, researchers, and policymakers around California and the world gawk at the state of the Salton Sea, while thousands of people reside near the Sea and experience its stench and beauty every day. A local photographer seeks to share the stories of these people through Salton Sea Speaks.

At the Salton Sea, a real dilemma of environmental justice has emerged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as [1]:

“… the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

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A Dusty Future

A drying sea

What happens if the Salton Sea dries up?

The climate in the area will shift, making winter more difficult for farmers in the area. The birds will have no place to rest along their migratory routes. However, most worrisome of all is the impact the drying sea can have on human health.

First, let’s imagine the scale of the Salton Sea. It is visible from orbit, shaped like a footprint in the sand, spread out over 343 square miles (889 km2). That is almost the size of Hong Kong and big enough to fit Manhattan Island ten times over. Now imagine that it has become a dry lakebed with very fine soil, perfect for being carried on the high winds common in the area. In the desert of Southern California, a sea of sand and gravel, more dusty space doesn’t seem like much of a concern. The major difference lies in the makeup of the dust and the sand. In the desert, the sand is made of silica and calcium carbonate, having the potential to clog up the lungs and irritate mucous membranes. In short, normal sand might give you a bad cough, but little else. In the case of the Salton Sea, dust can turn into a more serious health hazard.
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Sink or Swim (or Float): Water Quality and Salinity

Can you swim in the Salton Sea?

You are going to the Salton Sea this weekend. It’s the desert; it’s going to be really hot, so you want to know if you will be able to cool off in the water. Considering the massive fish die-offs and the occasional nasty odor for which the Salton Sea is notorious, you might be concerned about the safety of swimming in the water. You probably want to know the answer to two questions:

First question: Can you swim in the Salton Sea?

Answer: Of course you can! It’s full of water, it reaches a depth of 50 ft., and there are plenty of crowd-free beaches. Not only can you swim in the sea, but you can also float really well. There are approximately 55 grams of salt per liter of water (g L-1). This salinity is higher than the ocean, which has ~33 g L-1; thus the water is more dense and, with no waves, the relaxation potential is greater [1].

Second question: Should you swim in the Salton Sea?

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