Mono Lake is a large salt lake in Mono County, California. With no natural ocean outlet, high levels of salts accumulate in the lake, giving the water its above-average salinity and alkalinity levels. These provide conditions for the endemic Mono Lake brine shrimp to thrive, which in turn provide a key food source for over two million migrating birds annually.
After streams feeding the lake were diverted to supply the burgeoning population of Los Angeles in 1941, the lake lost almost half its volume of water in just a few decades. Its elevation level dropped from 1,955 m (~6,414 ft) to 1,942 m (~6,371 ft) above sea level at its lowest point
These drastic changes upset the delicately balanced ecosystem of the lake, devastating its wildlife populations. One of the major problems was caused by newly exposed tufa (limestone) towers which bridged an island of nesting gulls to the land, opening them up to predators. The large population of gulls were eventually forced to leave their habitat at Mono Lake.
A court-ordered conservation effort began in 1994 to partially restore the lake’s water levels and so the lake’s ecosystem has begun to recover. Bird watching is the major activity, but don’t expect to fish here – the extraordinarily high saline levels (higher than that of the ocean) prevent fish from living here.
The lake is the core attraction of Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Visitors to the area can also explore the beautifully shaped tufa towers of Mono Lake, particularly at South Tufa Preserve; and canoe tours are available for those who want to get out on the water. Exhibits at the visitor centre provide detailed information about the fascinating history of the lake. And of course, many people visit to just enjoy the natural beauty and tranquillity of the Mono Lake and the surrounding landscape.