Behold Brine Shrimp, the Livestock of Utah’s Great Salt Lake
The otherworldly stars of a thriving industry and endless curiosity could be at risk if the lake continues receding.
WHEN KYLE STONE TRIES TO explain his work, he sometimes compares it to keeping track of cows in a field. His job is to make sure there are enough cows in the pasture to keep it from getting overgrown, but not too many, so there’s enough grass to go around.
Except his cows are tiny aquatic creatures called brine shrimp, they eat algae instead of grass, and there are about 17 trillion of them.
The brine shrimp are grazing crustaceans, surviving on a diet of algae that grows in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. They reproduce by laying hardy eggs called cysts, which survive over the winter and hatch each spring to restart the population. Brine shrimp cysts have been harvested there for decades—it’s a $67 million-a-year industry that supplies food for fish farms around the world—and since 1992, the brine shrimp population in the lake has been closely monitored and managed by Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources. Scientists are watching closely, as the future of the brine shrimp, and the lake overall, is uncertain, with climate change and water use threatening the lake’s very existence.