Can Aral Sea recover?

Aral Sea from the plane
Patrick Schneider

The Aral Sea is located in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. However, this lake has been shrinking from about 60s, consequently leading to negative results. The main cause of this process is human factor. Today, Aral Sea is divided in 4 parts, or 4 small lakes, namely western, eastern, southern and one small central basin. The 2014 satellite photos received from NASA revealed that the eastern basin has completely dried out. Today, this part is known as Aralkum desert.

Nowadays, shrinking of Aral Sea is one of the biggest environmental issues. So, it begs the questions, what happened for it to shrink down and almost disappear? And, more importantly, can it recover? If so, what can we do to help the recovery of what was once a great lake?

The 1950’s and the cause of the problem

How can the fourth largest lake in the world disappear down into almost nothing? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer lies within the agriculture system during Soviet Union. Thus, agriculture became the main reason for the shrinking of the lake. They diverted the rivers that ran into the Aral Sea and used that water flow for irrigation. The Soviet Union irrigation systems reduced the lake to a mere 10% of its former glory. Now, this leads to the more complex part of the answer. The loss of the lake was and is a major environmental disaster for several reasons.

Firstly, the decrease in water levels meant a rise in salinity levels. This caused the freshwater fish to die out. Fish are a source of food for many other animals. So, when the fish go, the other animals tend to follow, too. And once the seabed was dry, pesticides covered the area, brought by dust storms and winds. Accordingly, this polluted the drinking water and finally, made it the dark picture for the restoration of the lake. While the sea was full of water and life, it used to attract many people. The nearby territory was flourishing, people had great access to fishing. However, due to vanishing is the sea, the fishing process had vanished too. Unsurprisingly,  there was rapid raise of unemployment.

The effect it had on people

As you can imagine, losing such a large surface of the water is not only a problem for animals. It is a problem for us, people, too. What was once a large fishing village, Moynaq, home to 250 boats? Now, it boasts a lighthouse for a rusting fleet of ten. The pesticides and other toxic chemicals used, have consequently caused long lasting effects. During the 1980’s children of the area where suffering from a range of diseases. Respiratory and kidney problems, tuberculosis, and some even died of diarrhea. Studies have shown that during the 80 and early ’90s liver problems were more common. And also, that the area saw a rise in child mortality rates.

Moreover,  while the sea was full of water and life, it used to attract many people. The nearby territory was flourishing, people had great access to fishing . However, due to vanishing of the sea, the fishing process had vanished too. Unsurprisingly,  there was rapid raise of unemployment. Thus, you can now see why the disappearance of the Aral Sea is important. Both on an environmental level and a human level.

The north and south divisions

In 2005 a massive eight-mile dam was built, south of the river Syr Darya. This divided the lake into North and South. Unfortunately, it is only the north side that has benefited from the Kokaral dam. A dam that went above anybody’s expectations. Scientist predicted that it would take three years for the water level to rise 11 feet. However, it took just seven months. The dam meant a lot of fish that were up the river has come back down to the lake. Numbers are nowhere near as high as they were in the early 1950s. But they are rising and that is very important. The fish brought with them a new breath of life to the villages that reside around the northern side of the Aral Sea. Given them a chance to fish again, so they can eat and make a living.

On the other hand, the South part is very different. The east is completely dry, and only a small sliver of water remains to the west. That water has such a high salinity level that only brine shrimp can be found there. The level of salinity is higher than in Dead Sea. But they too have found a way to help the Aral Sea and the people who live around it. People are planting saxaul trees, a native plant to the Uzbekistan desert. The roots of these trees can fix up to 10 tonnes of soil around them. What they aim to achieve is to utilize the plants to stop the wind picking up contaminated soil. That way the soil doesn’t go into the atmosphere and get taken to other areas.

They plant the trees in rows, ten meters apart. Their mission is to cover the entire area with a forest. The matured trees will seed and fill the gaps between the rows. Slowly but surely, this can be the defense against Uzbekistan’s and the Aral Sea’s climate change.

A road to recovery

It may not be possible to recover the Aral Sea to its former splendor. But the action is being taken. With the help of governments and investors, there are plans to recover the lake in some way. Whether that be the dam or the saxaul trees, help is coming.

Recommended articles: Climate changes: accelerated melting of AntarcticaNature doesn’t need people, but people need nature


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here