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Humans Killed the Aral Sea. Now, It’s Come Back to Life
2 days ago
A story from the Wired.
NOT LONG AGO, the Aral Sea was a sea in name only. Its fish had long since vanished, and the fishing industry with them. Rusting, dilapidated fishing boats littered the arid landscape, and salt kicked up from the silt of what was once the sea floor pelted surrounding villages. The desiccation of this once great saline lake remains one of the world’s great environmental disasters, yet the lake is slowly reviving.
“The water is back—it’s like a fairytale,” says French photographer Didier Bizet, who documents the turnaround in his ongoing series Aral dreams. “Suddenly, in the Aral Sea, life is coming back.”
The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest lake, covering 26,000 square miles on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. But in the 1960s, the Soviet government redirected the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers for agricultural projects, robbing the Aral of water. It started shrinking, and the lake split in two by 1990. By 2003 the water level had fallen 72 feet, prompting the World Bank to finance construction of the $85-million Kok-Aral Dam. The 8-mile dam, which opened in 2005, allowed more water to flow into the smaller Northern Aral Sea, increasing its volume 68 percent by 2008. Almost a decade later, the Aral is returning to life.
Bizet loved the idea of an environmental story with a happy ending, so in April he made the long journey from his home in Paris to the tiny village of Tastubek and the port city of Aralsk, Kazakstan. He spent two weeks joining fisherfolk on their motorboats as they went to sea each morning to cast their nets and again each afternoon to haul in carp, pike, and perch. Bizet also met townspeople—many from families who’ve lived in the area for generations—in local cafes or at their homes. Over the past five years, many people have returned to the area, and everyone feels hopeful for the future. “It’s easier for the villagers now in 2016 to have a normal life,” Bizet says. “Some of them were fishermen for a long time, some of them started to fish a couple of years ago, but the fishing is really possible now.”
The death of the Aral Sea may have been one of the world’s greatest environmental disasters, but its rebirth is one of the world’s great comebacks.
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Date published: 2015-06-08