Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume as well as the oldest lake in the world. Located in the the south-eastern Siberia, Baikal makes up 20% of the world’s available surface freshwater. There are around 300 rivers and streams that flow into Lake Baikal, but only one that flows out (the Angara River). The lake has very clear water with high oxygen content due to the lack of dissolved minerals and the cold temperature. Due to Baikal’s position in a valley between mountain ranges causes some intense winds on the lake – it s said that there are more than 30 named winds on the lake. Despite the heavy winds that often occur on the lake, waves as large as 8-12 feet rarely crop up.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Galapagos of the North’, Lake Baikal is home to more than 2,500 known animal species as well as more than 1,500 varieties of plants. Of these organisms, as many as 85% of the animals are thought to be found nowhere else in the world and as many as 40% of the plants are found only in the lake or its shores. One of these very exciting animals is the Nerpa, or Baikal Seal, the only animal in the seal family that lives exclusively in freshwater. More than 50,000 Nerpa live in Lake Baikal and they are a common sight in the northern portion of the lake during the summertime. In addition to freshwater seals, Baikal is home to more than 50 species of fish and 200 species of birds.
The Lake Baikal region was first explored by Russians in the early 1600′s. Russians ‘conquered’ Siberia around 1650 claiming the land as their own. The area is currently sparsely populated, the largest city near the lake is Irkutsk located about 70 kilometers east of the lake. The area’s economy is mostly based in natural resource extraction. In recent years the area has taken an interest in the potential for economic growth through tourism. The tourism industry is trying to build upon UNESCO’s 1996 decision to make Lake Baikal a World Heritage Site.