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What Has Happened to the Aral Sea?

Located in Central Asia between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth-largest inland body of water during the first half of the 20th century. But what a difference fifty years can make. Today, the Aral Sea is almost completely gone; it has shrunk to less than 10% of the size it was in the 1960s. This environmental disaster was largely caused by Soviet irrigation projects that diverted the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers in order to irrigate crops, most notably cotton. What is left of the Aral Sea has become too salty for fish to survive in, triggering the collapse of the region's fishing industry. It is probably not much consolation to local residents that there has been an uptick in tourism, as people come to see the dried-up lakebed and the rusting boats.

The tragedy of the Aral Sea:

  • In various Turkic languages, aral means "island." The name of the sea was a reference to the hundreds of small islands that formerly dotted its surface.

  • The eastern portion of the Aral Sea has completely dried up and the seabed is now known as the Aralkum Desert.

  • With the construction of a large dam, Kazakhstan is making some tentative progress towards restoring the North Aral Sea. In the past decade, the water level has risen and fish populations have actually increased.

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More Info: The Independent

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