Desert of the Skeletons

2013, Nature  -  51 min Leave a Comment
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This is the coast which, for centuries, the sailors who ply the commercial routes feared, respected, and above all, avoided. It sends us through the skeletons of dead animals bleached by the sun, testimony to the harshness of this coast where only the strongest and best adapted are capable of surviving. There have been many tragedies at sea, and this place has well-earned its fearful name: The Skeleton Coast. Not so long ago, the white man also tried to adapt to this dry land.

They came here lured by the promise of untold riches, big diamond deposits. But nature proved stronger and they soon had to admit defeat. Entire towns were abandoned overnight as they fled from the terrors of the desert. These ghost towns still provide the greatest evidence of the hostility of this dry land.

Shipwrecks of many ages and many nationalities warmed by the passing of time still lie half-buried, perhaps silently lamenting their absurd, unexpected fate. The old ships made of wood have slowly crumbled away, because of the combined effect of the sea, the wind, and the sand. But the most modern ships made of metal ride like ghosts from the deserted beaches.

The Skeleton Coast marks the window to the desert, which covers a narrow strip no wider than 200 kilometers running from Southern Angola to the Orange River, the border with South Africa. Like a coastal belt with dunes and rocks, the Namib Desert covers 250 000 square kilometers along more than 2000 kilometers of the Atlantic coast of Namibia.

The Namib is one of the oldest and most arid deserts in the world. Its mountains were witnesses to the cataclysms of the Jurassic Age, where the supercontinent Gondwana split apart and created new land masses; among them, Southern Africa. Just a few kilometers away, enormous dunes over 300 meters high transform the landscape, making it unrecognizable. That is the Namib: a constantly changing desert; a dry land where life lies in hiding.

From the air, this massive orange-colored sand seems endless. These are the tallest dunes in the world and below them lie the world's largest diamond deposits. It's a fantastic sight which could only have been created by nature. As the light changes, the dunes of the Namib take on a thousand different hues of spectacular beauty. They are like mobile sculptures shaped over thousands of years by the wind. The underground rivers provide just enough water for the odd acacia, adding a not quite adequate green to the symphony of crude colors dotted across the landscape. But every year, there is a veritable explosion of life along the Skeleton Coast.