40 years ago
The Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world, as well as, an important source of resources for the people who live in the surroundings. However, during the decade of 1960, the Soviet Union started an irrigation plan to transform the arid lands of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan into fertile soils for practicing agriculture, especially for cotton production. Before the project began, the two major rivers of the zone; the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, flowed down from the mountains and formed a huge lake known as the “Aral Sea”.
the BBC talked with some locals about the changes the Aral Sea have suffered through the years. A man called Ablaykhan Qulmuratov tells that, at the time no one thought that the irrigation plan would cause an ecological catastrophe. He works in the Northern Aral Sea Dam as an engineer. According to him, the irrigation plan that began on the 1960s ended up drying up the lake almost entirely. In 1989, the lake was divided in two parts, the Large and the Small Aral Sea and most of the locals had left. A fisherman says he stop fishing in 1987 because the water became extremely salty. The grass became salty too and the animals which ate it became ill and eventually die. In 1999, the sand dam they have built between the two lakes was destroyed by the water and the Small Aral Sea started to fill up with water again.
Due to the partial return of sea, many families moved back and earned money from fishing again. In spite of, the region had no fully recover from the ecological disaster, there are many touristic treasures waiting to be discover in the Aral Sea and surroundings.
Is famous for housing the Savitsky Art Museum,which contains one of the most valuable collections of Russian art. On the way to the dried lake, you can find the ancient ruins of a lighthouse on the Ustyurt Plateau. The Muynak port full of abandoned ships and left miles away from the water is a beautiful scenario noteworthy during a quiet and silent evening. There is also a museum where you can learn how was the area before the irrigation plan began and changed everything forever.
There are over 200 bird’s species living around the Sudichie Lake, many of them are endangered species. Another must-see is the surrealistic Aralkum Desert, a landscape full of salt fields which being observed from the distance seem to be covered by the snow.
In the Aral Sea you will find a contradictory beauty. On one side, visiting the Aral Sea will make you eyewitness of a tragic environmental disaster, but at the same time you will see the greatness of a place full of contrast hard to find anywhere else in the world. Every year, the Aral Sea attracts more tourist due to its historical and natural value and some companies are offering great tours that will take you around the most beautiful spots of this forgotten region of Central Asia.