Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Time May Come When People Will No Longer See the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - which formerly belonged to the four largest lakes in the world, has been slowly shrinking since the 1960s, thanks to the diversion of rivers feeding it to water agricultural lands in the former Soviet Union. Today, the once 68,000 kilometers of lake is now broken into four, or three, with the North Aral Sea having a maximum depth of only 138 feet or 42 meters, as of 2008.

Once dotted with over 1,500 islands, hence its name, the Aral sea had a flourishing saltwater fishing industry. But now, the boats that once plowed the old lake now sit on dry land which could very well be described as a desert. The many ports where they used to bring fish, now open up to a vast empty expanse of dry, salt-laden dirt. The wind carries dust from the dried up Aral sea to the east as far as China. Summers reportedly became hotter and winters, severe, in what's been called a local change in climate.

Efforts are being made by Kazakhstan to replenish the water in what's left of the North sea in the country. A dam was built in 2005 which raised the level of the sea by 39 feet. This helped to lower the salinity and allow fish to thrive. While it's not the same as before, the results may help bring the fishing industry back. Experts believe there's little hope for the South sea which has practically dried up except for the deeper portion to the West. The Badai Tugai Nature Reserve (left; area in green) to the southeast of the Aral Sea is now also dry and is facing ecological ruin.

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