Lake Amik was located in the centre of Amik Plain on the northernmost part of the Dead Sea Transform and historically covered an area of some 300-350 square kilometres, increasing during flood periods. It was surrounded by extensive marshland.
Sedimentary analysis has suggested that Lake Amik was formed, in its final state, in the past 3000 years by episodic floods and silting up of the outlet to the Orontes. This dramatic increase in the lake's area had displaced many settlements during the classical period; the lake became an important source of fish and shellfish for the surrounding area and the city of Antioch. The 14th century Arab geographer Abu al-Fida described the lake as having sweet water and being twenty miles (32 km) long and seven wide, while an 18th century traveller, Richard Pococke, noted that it was then locally called "Bahr-Agoule (the White Lake) by reaſon of the colour of its waters".
By the 20th century, the lake supported around 50,000 inhabitants in 70 villages, who took part in stock raising, reed harvesting, fishing (with a particularly significant eel fishery) and agriculture, crops and fodder being grown on pastures formed during the summer as the lake waters receded. They also constructed dwellings, locally known as Huğ, from reeds gathered in the lake.
Lake Amik was an extremely valuable habitat on the migratory routes of waterfowl and other birds, especially White Storks and pelicans, and was noted for an isolated breeding population of the African Darter. It also supported populations of endemic birds; a possible distinct subspecies of the Black Francolin (Francolinus francolinus billypayni) and the similarly distinct Southern Turkish Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus kosswigi). A Ray-finned fish species Hemigrammocapoeta caudomaculata was only known from Lake Amik, while cyprinid Barbus canis (Tor canis) was found nowhere else in Turkey.
With the draining of the lake, the endemic bird and fish species have become extinct; the region's biodiversity was further harmed by the fact that one of the few similar habitats, Lake Hula in northern Israel, was also drained in the 1950s.
Draining and reclamation of areas around the lake commenced in 1940, in order to free land for growing cotton and to eliminate malaria. A major drainage project, channeling the lake's tributary rivers (the Kara Su, the ancient Labotas, and the 'Afrin, the ancient Arceuthus or Arxeuthas) directly to the Orontes was undertaken from 1966 by the State Hydraulic Works, with further works completed by the early 1970s; by this time the lake had been completely drained, and its bed reclaimed for farmland.
As of 2007, Hatay Airport has been constructed in the centre of the lakebed.
There have increasingly been reports that the draining of Lake Amik has caused severe environmental damage. Reclaimed and irrigated land has been affected by increasing soil salinity, and productivity has fallen. Despite the drainage works, many areas still regularly flood, requiring constant maintenance of drainage canals and further decreasing the productivity of the reclaimed farmland, while the water table has fallen dramatically from an average of 20 metres to 400 metres at some points. The fall in underground water levels has been implicated in causing an increasing amount of subsidence and serious damage to buildings.