This sea is disappearing because it’s near death
THE ARAL SEA, which lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south, was one of the four largest lakes in the world.
There was a time when the shoreline of the Aral Sea was an idyllic affair. Well, not anymore.
So how did human activity manage to drain the 67,339 square kilometers sea which used to supply tens of thousands of tons of fish every year?
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union diverted the Aral Sea’s two rivers sources – the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya – for agriculture. As a result, the decreased water flow made the sea saltier, killing off the abundant freshwater fish.
By the 1980s, it had completely destroyed the fishing industry, which at its peak represented roughly 13 percent of the Soviet Union’s fish stocks.
This, in turn, forced a mass migration of people as the dried-out Aral seabed caused an imbalance in the weather patterns.
The area’s inhabitants also suffered health problems at unusually high rates, from throat cancers to anemia and kidney diseases. Infant mortality in the region has been among the highest in the world.
Today, the lake has split into two – the North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the South Aral Sea in Uzbekistan – and is only a 10th its original size.
Freshwater fish are beginning to return to the North Aral Sea, thanks to a US$86 million project financed by the World Bank that saw the construction of an eight-mile new dam named Kokaral and dikes.
It led to an 11-foot increase in water levels after just seven months and the fishing industry in Kazakhstan is beginning to thrive again.
“By 2016, the Aralsk Fish Inspection Unit recorded 7,106 tons of fish as freshwater species have returned, including pike-perch – which bring in a hefty price for local fishermen – breams, asp, and catfish,” BBC wrote.
But while Kazakhstan’s North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, the same can’t be said for Uzbekistan. The entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely dried up and all that remains is a single strip of water in the west.
Although this has man-made disaster has become a tourist attraction, the environmental fallout from the loss of the Aral Sea is intensifying.
“The dust, salt, and chemicals now coming off of the Aral Sea’s dried-up seabed are causing health problems for locals,” BBC reported.
Currently, excess water from the North Aral Sea is periodically allowed to flow into South Aral Sea through a channel in the dike.
Efforts are also being made to plant vegetation in the exposed seabed, but the flooding of the eastern basin is likely to be problematic for any development.
Locals remain optimistic that the sea will be restored to its previous glory although the difficulty of coordinating any plan between the states have hampered progress.
Hence, the future of South Aral Sea remains to be seen.