This freshwater sea forms a giant crescent almost four hundred miles long but only fifty miles across at its widest point. This lake holds all the records. It is the largest freshwater lake in Eurasia and the deepest in the world (5,715 feet). It represents the world’s greatest liquid freshwater resource and has the purest water! It contains as much fresh water as the Great Lakes, 20 percent of the world’s reserves! Three hundred and thirty-six rivers flow into it, but only one the Angara flows out. Lake Baikal is host to twenty-six hundred species of plants and animals, three-quarters of which are found nowhere else in the world. The best-known example is Baikal’s freshwater seal, of which there are 300,000.
But not all is idyllic in this natural wonder, ringed by high mountains whose glaciers sit at more than 10,000 feet. For one thing, there are the renowned paper-processing plants, each spilling up to ten million cubic feet of polluted water per day into the southern part of the lake, and polluting the air with their sulfur dioxide emissions. Then there are the many plans under development to enhance the local tourist industry: hotel chains, amusement parks, sports centers, and ski resorts. And the valuable omul is being overfished, which threatens to disrupt the lake’s ecosystem.
As usual, humans are putting pressure on the goose that lays the golden eggs. Will classifying the lake as one of the great natural areas of the world preserve what some call the Sea of Baikal?