The 12th largest continental lake in the world is found in southeastern Kazakhstan in Central Asia. It is Balkhash Lake, clearly one of the largest lakes in Asia that belongs to a closed basin that is shared by Kazakhstan and China, and a small part by Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country that shares a border with China, Russia and other Central Asian countries. It connects the continents of Europe and Asia.
Lake Balkhash, which is made up of freshwater in its western side and salt water in the eastern half, is named after the nearby city of Balkhash. It is a huge city with 66,000 inhabitants. Primarily due to the popular lake, the major industrial activities in Balkhash City are mining, ore processing and fishing. Needless to say, the fishing industry is huge and very profitable in cities and towns around the lake. Since the 1930s, systematic fish breeding has been introduced and resulted to great yields. Today, however, the number of fish is diminishing due to poaching and decline in water level and quality. Also, there are no more reproductive programs taking place. Yet, residents around the lake still depend much on the fishing industry. The total number of people living in cities around the lake is more than 3 million in 2005. These residents also benefit from the recently discovered copper deposit in the area, which is now being developed in the villages located to the north of the lake.
Meanwhile, the western side of the lake was where military installations, which included a radar missile warning system, were located during the Cold War. The southern shore, on the other hand, remains mostly unpopulated with only a few villages. The biggest tourist draws, of course, are the surrounding resorts that feature the best of Mother Nature and the Kazakhstan wildlife.
There are 342 species of vertebrates living in the lake, 22 of which are endangered. Nearby forests were used to be inhabited by the rare and now most probably extinct Caspian Tiger. In the 1940s, Canadian muskrat was released to these forests for the purpose of building up the fur industry. It was a success until the water levels destroyed the muskrat’s habitat. Around the lake, about 120 types of bird thrive, which include pheasants, the marbled teal, golden eagle, great egret and endangered species such as the white pelican spoonbill and whooper among others. There are also rare trees and plants, which include common reed, lesser Indian reed mace and a variety of cane species.
In the 1970s, water quality deteriorated and thus affected biodiversity. Before that decade, the lake used to be teeming with crustaceans, shellfish, oligochaeta and zooplanktons. The deterioration also affected the surrounding reed that in one time was abundant, dense and a home to a huge number of birds and animals. Also, the wetlands and riparian forests were reduced and thus shooed away a great number of birds and animals. Biodiversity was also greatly affected by modern developments that gave rise to land developments, pesticides and deforestation. Despite the deterioration, however, Balkhash Lake remains to be a major Kazakh destination for researchers, scientists, nature lovers, nature photographers and fun-loving tourists.