A group of swimmers braved the sting of extremely salty waters to cross the Dead Sea from Jordan to Israel today, a seven-hour challenge that organisers described as a first.
The swim organised by the EcoPeace charity was aimed at raising awareness for the iconic water body which has been receding by roughly a metre each year.
The 26 extreme swimmers from across the world, equipped with special masks due to the water’s high salinity, took seven hours to make the crossing, organisers said.
The distance is only 17 kilometres (10.6 miles) and the mineral-rich lake was calm, but the high amount of salt in the water makes it nearly impossible to swim normally.
It has 10 times more salinity than the Mediterranean Sea, meaning bodies float to the top, and keeping under the water is difficult.
“It was tougher than we expected,” said Samuel Moran, a 40-year-old Spaniard.
“The worst was the sun and the feeling of the salt on your skin that is very irritating. You feel like you are burning all the time,” he said, adding he felt like quitting “many times”.
The swimmers, the oldest of whom was 68, wore specially designed face masks as even a tiny amount of water in the mouth or eyes can cause agony.
Kim Chambers from New Zealand said she had swam extreme routes across the globe but this presented a unique test.
“Even just a few drops (of water) feels like acid burning in your eyes — if you ingest it, either through your mouth or through your nose, it is potentially fatal.”
The Dead Sea’s coastline is shared by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories and is the lowest point on earth, 400 metres below sea level.
But experts have warned it is on course to dry out by 2050.
Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East co-director, said the event was “a global call to save this amazing sea”.
“This is the lowest place on earth, these are the deepest saline waters on the globe, a unique composition, and sadly for the last 50 years they have been dramatically on the decline,” he said.
The swimmers came from across the globe, including New Zealand, South Africa and Israel. There were no Jordanians among them.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation it was the first ever swim across the sea.