California Contrasts: Salton Sea

I found myself in the desert of California with a meeting in Indian Wells, California this week.  Indian Wells is a delightful community, the commercial areas are carefully landscaped and well groomed as is typical for southern California communities.

Indian Wells - California

Many beautiful desert flowers were in bloom in the landscapes – agave,bougainvillea, sage, cactus and the native Red Bird of Paradise.

Red bird of Paradise - Caesalpina pulcherrima

Before driving back to the coast for my next meeting, I took the opportunity to visit the Salton Sea.  This water body was unintentionally created by water from flooding canals and the Colorado River in 1905.   A strong fishery developed over time and the area was became a popular recreational destination.  As it has no outlet and very few inlets, salinity and levels of other naturally occurring and agricultural chemicals has continually risen.  Much has been written about the current dismal condition of this formerly strong fishery, but it is still a shock to see it first hand.  The recreational development initiated decades ago on the western shore is incomplete, frozen in time and the shores now remind one more of a ghost town.  The stench of baking dead fish fills the air.

  As I approached the beach area, my attention was first drawn to the myriad fish skeletons, bleached white by the sun, indicating that this is not just a recent phenomenon.  In the dry desert heat, decomposition is very slow.  Many of them reminded me of fossils.

I was focused on the skeletons as I continued to move toward the water. The closer I got, the more intact the corpses became.  Most seemed to be Salton Sea Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus). I was actually startled when I looked up to see the condition of the water’s edge.

As I drove away, I caught this last glimpse of the Salton Sea.

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