The Aral Sea – the ecological disaster of our time

This saltwater lake in Central Asia is shared by two countries: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The name of the Aral Sea is derived from the Kazakh word aral meaning “island”, because several thousand islands once sprawled over the lake. In the past, the Aral Sea was the 4th largest lake in the world and was supplied by two major rivers of Central Asia: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya.

But since the 1930s, with the beginning of agricultural activities in the region, the Aral Sea saw its destiny threatened. The Soviet authorities decided to promote agriculture in the desert areas of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to grow cotton and rice. To do this, they diverted the main rivers of the Aral Sea to these areas, which prevented the natural water flow.

But, from the 1960s onwards, the same authorities decided to intensify the monoculture of cotton in both countries and dug several irrigation canals. Since then, they have continuously diverted water from these two rivers which would normally flow into the Aral Sea.

Today, the Aral Sea has lost 90% of its water volume, increasing the salinity of the sand in the water. Over 32 species of fish are now fully endangered. The water that remains today is very salty and continues to evaporate.

According to scientific research, the Uzbek part of the Aral Sea is expected to completely disappear from the planet by 2025. While the Kazakh part should continue to exist thanks to the water supply of the Syr-Darya river. Today, wrecks of abandoned ships are easily found lying on what was once the Aral Sea. The town of Moynak, a former port, is now home to a dozen of these stranded boats. A trip to see what’s left of this lake will allow you to see the ongoing effects of such an environmental disaster.

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