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Lake Profile

Issyk-Kul (Isyk-Kul)

General Information

Description Issyk-Kul is one of less than 20 ancient lakes on earth and is estimated to be approximately 25 million years old. Beginning in about 500 BC the Great Silk Road developed as a trade route through Central Asia and passed nearby the lake.

Issyk-Kul is the world’s second-largest high-altitude lake and a major biological and economic resource of the country. Slightly salty, the lake never freezes, which contributes to its importance as a stopover for migratory birds. Over the past few decades, the level of the lake has dropped some 2.5 meters as the result of water diversions. In the face of several serious threats to the lake, the Government of Kyrgyzstan has created the Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve, run by a Directorate General.

Country Kyrgyzstan
Latitude 42° 25' 0" (42.4167)
Longitude 77° 20' 0" (77.3333)


 Issyk-kul global index map (LakeNet Explorer)
 Lakes of Kyrgyzstan (LakeNet Explorer 2004)
 Largest Lakes of the World by Volume (LakeNet Explorer 2004)
 Issyk-kul locator map
 Ancient Lakes of the World
 Kyrgyzstan - Issyk-kul Site Tour 16-19 October 2003 (LakeNet Explorer )
 Lake Basin Management Initiative (LakeNet Explorer)
 USAID-supported Lake Basin Management and Biodiversity Conservation Technical Assistance 2003-2004 (LakeNet Explorer)

Physical Characteristics

Description Lake Issyk-kul is a permanent saline lake which has no outlets. The lake's catchment includes more than 180 rivers.
Volume 1,738.00 km3
Surface Area 6,236.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 280.0 m
Maximum depth: 668.0 m
Residence Time 305.0 years
Age Greater than 20 million years before present
Origin Tectonic
Trophic State Oligotrophic
Type Saline
Catchment Catchment size: 22,080.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 4:1


Economic Value Commercial fish species include naked soman, chebak, little chebak, common carp and marinka.
Major Cities Karakol
Population 435,000 (2001)

Watershed Management

Description At times, the strategy and tactics of environmental and biodiversity protection run counter to the interests of the local population. The basin is a densely settled region, home to a large industrial complex, to farms, fisheries, and recreational areas -- all of which combine to make environmental protection a difficult process.
Issues Intensive exploitation of the Issyk-Kul region has had a great influence on the unique natural qualities of this lake. Irreversible processes with long term consequences have been set in motion. There is already concrete information on the extinction of several species, and on the destruction of landscape, including unique thickets of buckthorn, barberry, and ephedra. The state of lake waters continues to worsen; this represents a threat to the lake both as a recreation area and as home to a variety of natural systems. There are a host of problems around the use of natural resources, and any solutions to these problems must take into account the unique environmental concerns of the lake basin itself, as well as the unique character of human life around the lake.
Other Issues Biodiversity Conservation
Climate Change
Cultural Heritage
Invasive Species
Lake Levels (water quantity)
Watershed habitat alteration
Specific Contaminants Mining
Monitoring One of the most important steps taken in government environmental policy in general and in the preservation of Lake Issyk-Kul in particular is the creation of a specially protected area, the Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve.
Monitoring Programs In-Lake
Water Quality
Biological Resources and Habitats

Biological Resources and Habitats

Biodiversity Conservation

Description The fauna of the land vertebrates is represented by 335 species. There are 3 species of amphibians, 11 species of reptiles, 54 species of mammals, and 267 species of birds. Among the non-vertebrates the most common animal groups are molluscs, spiders, and insects.

9 species of mammals, 18 species of birds, and 12 species of insects that are found within the Biosphere Territories had been included in the Red Book of the Kyrgyz Republic. 3 bird species had been included in the International Red Book.

Between 60 and 80 thousand water birds (16 species) gather around Lake Issyk Kul for wintering. This served as a main reason for the Territories into the database of the specially protected water and marsh lands (The Ramsar convention).

Designations Biosphere Reserve
LakeNet Biodiversity Priority
National Designation
Ramsar Site
Species of Concern Snow-leopard (Tien Shen Mountains), mountain goats, marals, and large falcons.

Endemic plants are few, only around 4% of the total flora, and they are mainly found in high altitudes. There are also relic plants within the territory: 65 species of medicinal herbs add a great value, 45 species of melliferous plants, and a few plant species that are used for dyeing.

Of the endangered plants that have been nominated for inclusion in the Red Book of the Kyrgyz Republic 11 species are present within the Issyk Kul Biosphere Territories.

Endemism Low


Issyk-kul Biosphere Reserve Directorate General

LakeNet Programs

World Lake Basin Management Initiative
USAID-funded Technical Assistance
Kyrgyzstan: Lake Issyk-kul Management and Biodiversity Conservation
LBMI Regional Experience Sharing and Review Workshop for Europe, Central Asia & the Americas


LakeNet News, Winter 2003-2004 (PDF)  Newsletter. Final. English. 12/20/2003.
Managing Lake Basins for Sustainable Use - Lake Basin Management Initiative Final Report (PDF)  Project Report. Final. English. 2/27/2006.


Biodiversity Conservation of the World's Lakes: A Preliminary Framework for Identifying Priorities
Central Asia Commerce Business and Resource Directory
Crop Explorer - Global Reservoir and Lake Elevation Monitoring
Crop Explorer - Lake Level Variations from TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason-1 Altimetry for Lake Issyk-kul
Developing the Community & Business Forum in Kyrgyzstan
EC Copernicus Project
Fish and fisheries in Lake Issyk-kul (Tien Shan), River Chu and Pamir Lakes
ILEC Database
Kyrgyzstan Community and Business Forum – Small Grants Programme for Local NGO’s
Lake Issyk-Kul & Its environment
Lake Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve
Syr Darya River Basin map & information


7/21/2004 - Archaeologists to seek Kyrgyz Atlantis
4/23/2004 - Towards a Lake Basin Management Initiative
2/2/2004 - Threat from Kyrgyz waste dumps?
10/28/2002 - Issyk-Kul lake level fuels climate concern
9/21/2002 - Kyrgyzstan returns to earlier age
4/9/2002 - Tourists to see underwater cities at the bottom of Issyk-Kul
1/9/2002 - Growing of opium poppies may be renewed in the Issyk-Kul Valley in Kyrgzia
10/1/2001 - Lake Issyk Kul named a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO ( Kyrgyzstan)
7/9/2001 - Apostle Matheus grave to be searched for on Issyk-Kul Lake
5/30/1998 - Mining company agrees compensation for toxic spillage

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
Herdendorf, C. 1982. Large lakes of the world. Journal of Great Lakes Research 8:379-412.

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