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'Apocalyptic' scene at Lake Shalkar in Western Kazakhstan

Lake Shalkar covered in strange grey mass. © <a href="http://www.uralskweek.kz/" target="_blank">Uralsk Week</a> Lake Shalkar covered in strange grey mass. © Uralsk Week

An unidentified grey mass has polluted the shores of Lake Shalkar in West Kazakhstan Oblast, Tengrinews reports citing Moi Gorod.

Local residents tell of a long streak of a smelly grey mush caking the shore of the lake. Further off the shore, the mass thins into a greenish film on the water. Besides, there is a lot of dead fish washed ashore. All this issues a stark smell of rotten eggs.

The lake located around 150km east of Uralsk city is quite popular in Western Kazakhstan for vacations and used to be a nice place to go to with a family. But now swimming is out of question.

One of the readers of Moi Gorod shared his unsuccessful attempt to have a family getaway on the lake: “Past Sunday I went to Shalkar with the family. We just had to leave, not daring to swim. There was a 50-70-meter stretch of grey mass resembling a thick gruel on the beach. Further off the shore there was a thin green film on the water. The place was not suitable for swimming. It all smelled like hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs). There were many other people around us packing and leaving. There was a group of people who came all the way from Samara [a city in Russia], they rented a yurt [traditional Kazakh house somewhat similar to a wigwam], but did not dare swim and also left. Besides, there was lots of small dead fish scattered along the coast. In general, it all looked like an apocalyptic scenery.”

The Department of Ecology of West Kazakhstan Oblast confirmed the fact of contamination in the lake after receiving numerous complaints from the local residents. Representative of the department arrived at the scene on July 5 and took water samples. 

Deputy Head of the Department Syrym Tlegenov said that the film on the surface of the water may have formed from dead moths. Waves carried it onto the shore of the lake and there it turned into the grey mass. However, there was also another version. The Department acknowledged that the lake may have been polluted by petroleum products. Neither of these two versions were official ones, through. “The tests will show exactly whether there are any petroleum products in the lake or dead insects are causing the unpleasant smell,” the Department said.

In the meantime, another local newspaper UralskWeek reported that the lake was probably not the only sources of hydrogen sulphide smell, since people residing within 10 kilometers around the lake started feeling whiffs of rotten eggs at around the same time the strange mud appeared on the shores of the lake.

The anomaly appeared in the middle of last week, on July 3. There was a strong wind at the lake and a streak of water within 100 meters from the coast turned muddy, after that the strange smelly substance started accumulating on the shores and drying into firm crusts. After that came the dead fish, locals say.

“The water in the lake does 'bloom' at around this time of year" and it may turn a little greenish from the seaweed sometimes, "but we have never observed the stiff crust of this strange substance on the shores before,” the lake's frequenters say. “It does not look like seaweed, and the smell is of something synthetic,” they told UralskWeek.

The official statement was made today, July 9, after the tests were made. Deputy Head of the Department Syrym Tlegenov declared that there were no petroleum products in the water.

“There are changes in the composition of the water. There is an excess of salt, magnesium, calcium and other impurities,” he said. He also added that there was an excess of phenol, which he said was connected to the rotting seaweed.

Tlegenov said that the unpleasant smell and a blue-green stiff crust on the water near the shore were the result of seaweed rotting in warm weather.

“All these days, the water stayed still because of lack of wind. Due to high temperatures, microorganisms start to reproduce faster and green algae started to rot. This is exactly why there is the unpleasant rotten odour around the lake,” Tlegenov said.

He explained that phenol decreased the content of oxygen in the water, which, in turn, caused the fish to die.

Phenol is cited as the cause for die out of fish in lakes quite often. In most cases it gets into lake water with sewage discharged from plants and factories, but since there are none of those in the area, decaying green algae - the seaweed - may indeed be the only cause of the problem.

However, the ecologists advised people against swimming in the lake.

Writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina 

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