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Lake Baikal
Kenton M. Stewart

I tried to get a sense of the wonder of Baikal,
but its majesty was just too great for words to fit it all.
I thought about its beauty and its volume besting all.
It’s hard to know just where to start when thinking of Baikal.

For over 20 million years unique forms have evolved.
The lake’s a bank of DNA with secrets not yet solved.
The bio-diversity, of forms both large and small,
shows that “survival of the fittest” is the case in Lake Baikal.

So let’s hear it for the inverts, fish, and even for the seal,
and all those plants and species where endemic forms are real.
For Baikal is not a treasure for the locals there to hide,
or even for one country using it to gain some pride.

But the lake is a treasure for the whole world to preserve,
yet if it’s not protected… then it’s one we don’t deserve.
Economic exploitation, a boon and yet a curse,
will take a toll on Baikal…not for better, just for worse.

So how can we preserve Baikal and show we really care?
That’s a question that will haunt you… once you have been there.
Seasons come and seasons go in ancient Lake Baikal.
I’m in wonder of that treasure. I’m in love with Lake Baikal.

about this poem

This poem was composed primarily during 13-16 July 2003 while the author was aboard a boat on Lake Baikal. The lake has large numbers of endemic species of animals and plants (i.e. found there and no place else on earth).  The most famous is the Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica), the only completely freshwater seal in the world.

Baikal, located in southern Siberia, Russia, is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world.  It holds about 23,000 cubic kilometers of water (20% of the world’s freshwater supply) and is 1,637 meters deep.

Although the surface area of Baikal is exceeded by that of three (Superior, Huron, Michigan) of the five St. Lawrence Great Lakes in North America, Baikal’s volume is so great that it could (by itself) theoretically hold the combined volume of all the five Great Lakes. Such treasures need sustained protection.

In a letter to us, the author writes that the water in much of the lake, "Looks clear and clean," but adds, "Near the end of our boat trip on Lake Baikal, we docked overnight in the Harbor of Kultuk.  Kultuk, in the extreme southwestern corner of the lake, is an industrial port town through which the Trans-Siberian Railroad runs.  Unfortunately, the water in the harbor of Kultuk was dirty and quite polluted at the time we were there.  The contrast between the near-shore Kultuk area, and out in the lake proper, was striking."

"Considering that some Russians regard Lake Baikal as their 'sacred Siberian sea,' I wondered why the local people or administrators have allowed such degradation to occur.  Perhaps, as was the case initially with the five St. Lawrence Great Lakes in North America, people have the mistaken impression that polluted harbors will never impact the main part of the lake."

The author, Dr. Kenton M. Stewart, is a lake ecologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo.  The photograph of Lake Baikal was taken by John Heisel of the Russian Federation.

Important News Item

On 1 August 2009, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made a descent to the bottom of Lake Baikal in a tiny submarine to see how ecosystem research on the lake is progressing. Read about Putin's historic visit (the first by a Russian leader) and about his desire to preserve the ecology of Lake Baikal by clicking here.

Poem © Copyright 2005 Ecology Online Sweden.  All rights reserved.







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