Last summer I went
to the Baikal Lake in Russia and lead a group of passionate cold-water
divers and amateur underwater photographers on what became one of the most
interesting expeditions I have done in recent years.
Even before the trip Lake Baikal, located in southern Siberia, tremendously stands out for
its superlatives: it is the deepest (1,642 metres), the largest per volume and
the oldest freshwater lake on Earth, existing for more than 25 million years.
It also contains about 20 percent of the fresh, non-frozen water on the
I packed my new XR Extended Range Mares gear, which
was excellent for facing the frigid weather conditions in Siberia (with
an average water temperature of between 4-6 °C).
Diving in the Baikal
was different to anything I’ve ever dived so far. Not so much because of the low
temperature, which I’m used to because I often dive in lakes in the Alps and
other chilly waters, but because of the clarity of the azure waters, cliffs,
deep walls and omnipresent neon green lights that make a divers’ heart beat
Diving in the
Baikal is only recommended with dry suits and for divers who are not afraid of
cold water. From one point of view, the Baikal is considered technical diving.
One of the main issues there is the cold temperature, not only for divers, but
also for their scuba gear which is subject to particular, uncommon operating
conditions. These same conditions have to be faced by photographic gear – and beyond
the known problems with battery endurance one must consider the underwater housings and
strobes, which must be fitted with specific devices.
In 1996, the
Baikal region was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Lake Baikal is the
largest reservoir of fresh water on Earth (containing almost 24 percent of the fresh water
reserves in the world) and has a volume of 23,000 km³, greater than
the Baltic Sea. The catchment area of the lake and its tributaries is around
1.5 million km² - that's more than four times the size of Germany!
Because the lake has steadily become deeper, the animals have had plenty of time to adapt. At a depth of 1.6km a high diversity of species can be found. One of the
only two occurring freshwater seal species of the world lives in Lake Baikal:
the Nerpa, also called the Baikal seal. The Omul, Coregonus migratorius, a
whitefish species of the salmon family and the Golomjanka, a fatty fish, which
is the deepest living freshwater fish on Earth also live there. These fish have managed to
preserve eyesight even at the greatest depths, although they only see in black
The lake counts 52 species of fish and 27 of them are endemic to the lake.
There are more than 350 species and subspecies of amphipods and all are
endemic. They are exceptionally diverse in ecology and appearance, ranging from
the pelagic Macrohectopus to the relatively large deep-water Abyssogammarus.
The "gigantism" of some Baikal amphipods, which has been compared to
that seen in Antarctic amphipods, has been linked to the high level of
dissolved oxygen in the lake.