The crescent shaped Lake Balkhash in south eastern Kazakhstan is both a salt water and fresh water lake. The River Ili flows into the western end of the lake, filling it with bright colored sediment. This highlights the difference between the freshwater side in the west and the saline side in the east. A large ridge of sand between the lake’s two sections stops them from mixing.
The climate is classed as continental with average temperatures of 30°C in summer and -14°C in winter. Average precipitation is around 131mm per year.
Declining water levels and increasingly poor water quality due to land development, pesticides and industrial activity have adversely affected the biodiversity of the lake; however, it is still a habitat for 120 bird species, included the endangered White Pelican, Dalmatian Pelican, spoonbill, Whooper swan and erne. There are also 342 species of vertebrate living in the lake, 22 of which are endangered. There are rare trees and plants around the lake itself, including the common reed, lesser Indian reed mace and a variety of cane species.
Despite the deterioration of Balkhash Lake, it is still a major Kazakh destination for researchers, scientists, nature lovers, nature photographers and fun-loving tourists. The sandy shores are a magnet for local families for swimming and relaxing (although some warn that due to the pollution and other factors, it’s not advisable in the areas immediately around the town of Balkhash itself). The temperature of the water between June and September is 25-30°C. Fishing, yachting, diving and exploring the natural world on the islands are all popular activities.