Mehdi Bilel, a Tunisian, was driving home from a wedding in the north of his nation when he came across a big body of water shimmering in the scorching desert sun around 25 kilometres from Gafsa. A few days ago, there was no lake. Mehdi Bilel first believed he was hallucinating. He walked for hours on the road without stopping, and the heat may have played havoc with his mind. But he wasn’t hallucinating; the lake had suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
The enigmatic lake is roughly a hectare in size and may reach a depth of 18 metres. Hundreds of Tunisians rushed to what became known as the “Lake of Gafsa” to swim and cool down in the region’s 40°C heat as word of its appearance spread like wildfire.
This incident occurred in August 2014, at a time when Tunisia was experiencing one of its worst droughts. This made the unexpected emergence of the vast body of water all the more puzzling.
Later on, the enigmatic lake became a significant tourist attraction in the area. Swimming in the lake, however, might be harmful due to the presence of phosphates in the water. Phosphate is rich in Tunisia’s southern area, which is found in the soil and rocks. A radioactive residue is left behind by this element. This means that if the lake has been contaminated, the water will be radioactive and carcinogenic.
In fact, the first indication that something was wrong with Lake Gafsa emerged only a few days after it appeared. Due to an algal bloom, the water changed colour from bright crystalline blue to dark green, indicating that the water was not being replenished or may even be contaminated with germs and disease.
So, about two weeks after the lake’s appearance, public safety officials in Gafsa warned residents that it was dangerous to swim there. Few heeded the warning. Crowds of people still visit it to swim and ward off the desert heat.
Meanwhile, the origin of the lake’s creation is unknown. A minor earthquake might have opened a crack above the water table, according to the most plausible hypothesis. As a result, millions of cubic metres of water were released to the surface. These are the kinds of situations that make us understand how rich our world is with mysterious locations.