Dead Sea on death bed
From CNN Correspondent John Vause
The water in the Dead Sea is so salty that everyone can float on it.
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DEAD SEA (CNN) -- If you are planning to go for a float on the Dead Sea, do it soon -- because scientists predict in the next 50 to 100 years you will be seeing a lot less of it.
The mineral-laden sea that separates Israel and Jordan is famous for its medicinal and therapeutic value, and is so salty that swimmers flock to float in its waters.
But scientists say the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third and the water level is retreating by three feet, or 90 centimeters, each year.
"I am feeling like something bad is happening to a good friend of mine and I can do nothing," district ranger Eli Dror tells CNN.
A white barrier built next to the water's edge in 1980 to keep jackals away from a nearby Kibbutz is now high and dry almost half a mile (800 meters) from the shoreline.
And there are giant sink holes here, dozens of them.
"Is there another example anywhere in the world where sink holes are developing at the same speed and at the same rate?," Dr. Amos Bein from the Israel Geological Survey asked.
"As far as we know, this is an exception,"
The sink holes, scientists say, are just the symptom of a much bigger ecological problem. As the Dead Sea dries up, so too does the underground reservoir fresh water -- a one-time reserve that may never be replaced.
"This is the last moment before things go totally out of hand and we do have an option to get our act together and work things out," said Tomer Marshall from Friends of the Earth.
But working things out won't be easy.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth.
The Jordan River is the Dead Sea's lifeline and its water is used for agriculture and in cities and towns.
Almost everyone agrees the best plan would be to stop diverting water from the Jordan River.
Right now Israel, Syria and Jordan use about 90 percent of the river's water, leaving precious little for the Dead Sea.
But experts say there is virtually no chance authorities will ever agree to stop diverting water from the Jordan River.
Now Israel and Jordan are working on an ambitious plan to pump a billion cubic meters of water every year from the Red Sea, but no one knows for certain what that could mean.
The different sea waters may not mix, creating a layer of the Red Sea on top of the Dead Sea. It could cause a blooming of micro-organisms, or even turn the water a whitish color.
"We know the Dead Sea will never dry up entirely and we believe if indeed the mixing of the sea water will cause serious and significant environmental changes, it is better to leave the situation as it is," Dr. Bein said.
The bible says Jesus was baptized here where the Jordan River meets the Dead Sea. King Herrod made his winter home on Masada, and the towns of Soddom and Gommera once stood before being destroyed by God's wrath.
Now the question is how to save this delicate ecosystem at the lowest point on Earth.
For five million years it has survived and while most agree the sea will never entirely disappear, many are asking, how much will be left for future generations.