Enlarge / The two brown, rocky areas near the water’s edge used to be islands. (credit: NASA)
Saline lakes, like the Caspian Sea, the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea, and of course the Great Salt Lake, have served as recreational playgrounds and tourist attractions, supported thriving fishing and shipping industries, and yielded minerals to be extracted for commercial and industrial applications.

A slightly less quantifiable benefit they used to grant was providing habitats for waterbirds.
But these lakes are getting smaller and smaller—and becoming saltier and saltier—as we siphon off ever more of their water, predominantly for agricultural purposes. A perspective piece published in Nature Geoscience this week entitled “Decline of the world’s saline lakes” bemoans that “the ecosystem services provided by saline lakes are real, but less easily quantified [than the benefits of water consumption], and may have a constituency that is less well established in law, business, and social practice.”
The economic benefits of taking water from these lakes for agriculture is apparent, whereas the costs of doing so are not as obvious.

But the costs are there.

The lakes’ decreasing surface may render their shores inaccessible for mineral extraction.

Their increasing salinity may cause the collapse of recreation, tourism, fisheries, and ecosystems, as the species that used to thrive in them can’t tolerate all that salt.
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