Revered by ethnic Azeris as “the turquoise solitaire of Azerbaijan,” Lake Urmia was second only to the Caspian Sea as the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, a haven for birds and bathers. Since the early 1970s nature and humanity have chipped away at this gem tucked in northwestern Iran, reducing its size by about 80 percent over the past 30 years. The flamingos that feasted on brine shrimp in this UNESCO biosphere reserve are mostly gone. So are the pelicans, the egrets, and the ducks. Even the tourists who flocked to Lake Urmia for therapeutic baths in its warm, hypersaline waters are staying away.
What remain are piers that lead nowhere, the rusting carcasses of ships half-buried in the