Standing on the shore of Lake Turkana, you would be almost forgiven for believing you are at the seaside. There is swell in the waters, a sandy beach, and waves are lapping up to it. A fierce wind is blowing and fisherman boats are moored nearby, ready to go. But this no sea, it’s Lake Turkana – the world's largest permanent desert lake and largest alkaline lake in the world covering an area of about 7,000 sq km. The local people call it the Jade Sea because of its breathtaking turquoise color.
Lake Turkana, World’s Largest Desert Lake
Lake Turkana is located in the north of Kenya's Rift Valley, and fed by three rivers: the Omo of Ethiopia, the Turkwel and the Kerio. The long body of Lake Turkana drops down along the Rift Valley from the Ethiopian border, extending 249 kilometers from north to south and 44 km at its widest point with a depth of 30 meters. Between four and eight thousand years ago, the Lake stretched for more than 400 kilometers from the Omo Valley almost as far as Baringo. During this period, the Lake had an outlet, a river flowing northwestwards to join the Nile.
Though located in the desert, Lake Turkana can have surprisingly strong wind bursts and storms that come up quickly. On-shore and off-shore winds can be extremely strong as the lake warms and cools more slowly than the land. Sudden, violent storms are frequent. These conditions make it a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts who want a change of pace.
The Lake is surrounded by an arid, seemingly extra-terrestrial landscape that is often devoid of life. The Lake itself, however, is teeming with it. It is home to the world's largest population of Nile crocodiles, hippos, and hundreds of bird and fish species. The rocky shores are home to scorpions and carpet vipers. Its shores have revealed the oldest-known fossil remains of Homo habilis that lived two million years ago. Today, the lives of more than a quarter million indigenous peoples from at least ten tribes depend on the lake for their food crops, livestock grazing and watering, and fishing.
But Lake Turkana and its inhabitants now face an environmental catastrophe. Ethiopia is building a massive Gibe 3 Dam upstream on Lake Turkana's main water source, the Omo River. When it completes, the lake could start drying just like the Aral Sea did.