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Lake Baikal in Southeast Siberia

Listed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal in south-east Siberia contains up to 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater reserve. Its tremendous age, estimated at 25 million years, and its isolated location has resulted in the preservation of a wealth of rare freshwater flora and fauna, considered to be of great value to scientists studying evolution. Its biodiversity has led to Lake Baikal being compared with the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, where Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution, upon which evolutionary scientist build today.

Measuring up to 1,700 meters deep, Lake Baikal is surrounded by a network of scenic protected areas that are home to an astounding variety of animal and plant species, many of which are endemic to the area. The terrain around the lake includes coniferous, pine and deciduous forests, as well as mountain steppes, tundra and islands. It has been determined that the geological structures of the Lake Baikal basin were created through tectonic forces during the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras, and these forces are ongoing as is evident by the appearance of thermal vents in the lake recently.

One of the most notable of the resident fauna is the Baikal freshwater seal (Pusa sibirica), the only exclusively freshwater seal species in the world. As Lake Baikal is located hundreds of kilometers from any oceans or seas, it is a matter of speculation as to how they came to be in the enormous lake. The most widely accepted theory is that Lake Baikal was at one time linked with the Arctic Ocean and the colony of seals was trapped in the inland body of water at some point. Today, they are thriving in Lake Baikal, with an estimated population of between 80,000 and 100,000 individuals. Despite being hunted and having to deal with pollution of the lake, Baikal seals are not considered to be endangered, although scientists have expressed concern for the impact climate change/global warming may on Lake Baikal as a closed cold-water ecosystem.

In addition to the natural treasures of Lake Baikal and its surroundings – more than 1,000 species of plants and 1,500 species of animals - the region has a wealth of cultural and historical monuments, with up to 1,000 of these having state protection, and many considered to be sacred by the diverse ethnic and cultural groups living in the region.

(Photo attribution: Benutzer:Sansculotte on Wikimedia Commons)


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