‘It is impossible to drown in the Dead Sea’, ‘No-one has ever drowned in the Dead Sea’ These words have been spoken by many thousands of people, and heard by even more. Even ABC News, a American news network has said: ‘You can’t drown in the Dead Sea even if you tried.’
How marvelous, a bathing spot with no risk. Well it would be, were it not for that they are wrong.
This misconception arises from the fact that the Dead Sea is bizarre lakes (yes, lake) with some peculiar properties. It is the deepest hypersaline(very very salty) lake in the world, existing at a cool 420m below sea level. By hypersaline I mean that the whole lake is 33.7% salt. This salt overdose is what makes the Dead Sea special.
All of that salt is dissolved in the water, making the whole lake much denser than normal water. Additionally swimming becomes rather uncomfortable. In fact the water becomes so dense that it is denser than any human body. So, it is impossible for someone to sink in the Dead Sea without using equipment. The problem is that people are talking about drowning in the Dead Sea. That is another matter entirely.
Think of someone drowning for a moment… done? Good. Now it is quite likely that you imagined a situation where someone couldn’t swim. They floundered and thrashed but they eventually sank beneath the surface and drowned, or something to that effect. This is sinking. Drowning occurs once they are beneath the water and cannot breathe, in the Dead Sea, drowning is surprisingly easy.
Floating in the Dead Sea involves the water pushing your body up and the weight of your body pushing down into the water. Due to the density of the water any movement is difficult, but manageable. People turn onto their fronts, then there is a problem. It is hard to turn, and weak swimmers will get tired necks. Eventually if they cannot put themselves onto their backs, they will let their faces drop into the deathly brine. There was no sinking, but that was drowning.
Israel’s Government claims that the Dead Sea is the second most dangerous place to swim in Israel. First place taken by the Mediterranean Sea because there are a lot more bathers, the Dead Sea is much more likely to put you at risk were you to visit. Over the last 5 years alone at least 6 people and died and a further 120 or so have been rescued.
The Dead Sea is named as such, not for its taking of human life, but for the lack of life within it. Salt is a preservative, before fridges were invented salt was used as a way to stop bacteria growing on food for extended periods of time. This same effect happens on a massive scale here, the levels of salt kill anything that even attempts to live there. There are occasional successes though.
When rare rains rains dilute it, the Dead Sea temporarily plays host to that basest of all life – bacteria. That only ever last for a few months before they too resume being dead.
There we have it; not only is it possible to drown in the Dead Sea, several people have and more will. On the bright side – no life there to irritate you. On a further note the Dead Sea happens to be undergoing some kind of dramatic coincidence. Due to extensive irrigation works on the water feeding into the lake and salt harvesting projects, flow is reduced. The Dead Sea itself, is dying.