Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Salton Sea (east shore)

If you haven't read part one of this series -- Salton Sea (west shore) -- do so here, then come back to this entry. Don't you love a bossy blogger? But, this is a series. The second part won't make as much sense if you've not seen the first part. There will be three additional parts, if you're wondering.
OK, onward to the other side of the Salton Sea. The temperature as we took these photos was 115 degrees F. That's 46.1 C. for you foreigners. It was all we could do to function. How do people live in places like Palm Springs?
The east shore of the sea is, as far as we could tell, abandoned except for the California Department of Parks and Recreation's Salton Sea Visitor Center, which will be the subject of part three of this series, and a woebegone settlement called Bombay Beach, pop. 366.
This woman saw me with a MiniDV camera, thought we were TV reporters (we're both newspaper reporters, actually, but we weren't working) and came up and shared her ideas for saving the sea.
Birds like the place because it is food and water in the desert and, for some of them, is on their migration route. But, given that the Salton Sea is saltier than the ocean, surely they don't drink it. Or can they? What do I know? Sometimes there are massive bird die-offs, in addition to the regular humongous fish die-offs. One of the bird die-offs -- in 1996, from avian botulism -- killed 14,000 birds, including 8,500 American white pelicans and 1,100 endangered brown pelicans. The birds get botulism from eating floating, dying fish, who produce the toxin when they contract vibrio bacteria, which rots them from the inside out.
You know, this place looks pretty in these photos. And I guess it is. But when you're standing there in 115-degree heat, looking at all the dead fish (the white spots in the water at left above) and the abandoned, decrepit buildings and the crumbled infrastructure -- and taking in the smell -- you forget that it's pretty. But it is.
See, dead fish. Click on any photo to make it bigger.
Dead fish all over the place. These fish were not killed by pollution (which is not a big problem at the Salton Sea) or by the increasing high salt content (which is a huge problem). These fish suffocated. The sea is very nutrient-rich courtesy of farm-fertilizer runoff and phosphates draining from municipal water systems. As a result, hot weather causes algae blooms, which quickly die and rot, and respiration by bacteria and fungi during the decomposition process temporarily consumes nearly all the oxygen in the water. I feel bad for the fish. They've done nothing to deserve this. They just want to swim around and do fish things.

In a 1999 fish die-off, 10 million tilapia and croakers croaked. A 2006 die-off killed 3 million tilapia. But, obviously, a lot of them don't die, and they manage to continue to reproduce with wild abandon.
Aces & Spades is one of my favorite abandoned buildings from the Salton Sea's heyday.
This motel also has a certain je ne sais quoi. Next up, in part three, a visit to the California Department of Parks and Recreation's curious little Salton Sea Visitor Center.
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