Instagram is filled with beautiful images of beautiful people standing in beautiful scenery captioned with beautiful, heartfelt words about living your best life.
Of course, not everything on Instagram is what it seems and that is certainly apparent in the case of the so-called Siberian Maldives, near Novosibirsk, Russia. The images that populate the location’s Instagram page show a serene, turquoise blue lake offering a slice of a tropical paradise, but in Siberia. It’s easy to understand why would-be Instagram influencers, travel bloggers, yoga models, and newlyweds stand alongside the iridescent blue waters, using the alluring lake as a backdrop for their FOMO-inducing photography. There’s just one small problem: It’s not a pristine wilderness, but a man-made toxic waste dump.
According to The New York Times, the lake was built to house waste products from Heating and Electrical Station Number 5, a power plant. The water’s gorgeous aquamarine hue is in no way natural, but rather the result of “deposits of calcium salts and metal oxides” and completely toxic.
This has not stopped people from flocking to the site to take photographs. As the site became increasingly popular as an Instagram backdrop, the operator, Siberian Generating Company, was forced to issue a statement warning people to avoid, you know, touching the water. “It is not poisonous,” the company said, according to the Times, noting that while “the radiation level is normal” it has a “high pH value from the coal ash that is pumped into it” and “can cause allergic reactions.”
The company strongly advised people to not fall in “while hunting for selfies” not only because of the water, but due to the lake’s muddy bottom, which makes it “almost impossible” to get out. This has not stopped Instagrammers from posing near the lake with pink flamingo floats or on paddleboards or stepping into the water with a unicorn raft. The photos of this “tropical paradise” are a perfect cautionary tale to remind social media users that not everything you see on Instagram is real life.