Sivash: The Rotten Sea

Wednesday, 25th May 2011 by

In the south of Ukraine we find a large set of distinctly-coloured lagoons which form the western portion of Sivash, a system of lagoons and swamps that separates the mainland from the Crimean Peninsula. As well as being distinctly coloured, these lagoons permeate other waters of the area with a stench so foul that the locals have nicknamed Sivash the "Rotten Sea”.

Sivash is actually a system of lagoons and swamps that are an extension of the Sea of Azov, which is the world’s shallowest sea. Covering a total of 2,560km2 (990 sq. miles), the deepest part of the lagoon system is a mere 3 metres (10 feet). Because the lagoons are so shallow, water entering Sivash from the algae-ridden Sea of Azov evaporates quickly in summer, producing the horrible smell that makes earned it its nickname.

Sivash may just contain the most colourful waters to be found in Google Maps, with ponds of blue, beige and orange readily visible - looking a lot like Neapolitan ice cream.

These colours are the products of industrial salt extraction, taking advantage of the shallow waters. Many of the lagoons are dammed off to speed up the evaporation process. This long dike even carries a road and power line.

The effects of these dikes can be clearly seen; on one side of this dike, the water is completely pink, while the other side is black except for the large amount of silt kicked up from the lagoon bottom. Sivash is underlain by as much as 5 metres (15 feet) of silt.

Here on the small neck of land connecting Crimea to the rest of Ukraine, this chemical plant producing titanium oxide takes advantage of Sivash’s smelly water to, um, add to the smell, we suppose.

Over 200 million tonnes of salt are estimated to exist in Sivash. When water levels recede in summer, numerous white salt pans are exposed, covering dozens of square km in the centre of the region.

The eastern side of Sivash is decidedly more pleasant, separated from the Sea of Azov by the 112 km (70 mile) long Arabat Spit, forming a giant beach that's a popular vacation destination. The only entrance for water into Sivash from the sea is the marshy Henichesk Strait at the north end of the spit. Along part of the beach, a chain of little salt ponds dots the shoreline.

Fortunately for the noses of holidaymakers, the resorts and sandy beaches front the Sea of Azov, not Sivash and its salt ponds.