Tara Fitzgerald goes searching for the last remnants of the Aral Sea @ The Common.
Fifty years ago the white-crested waves of the Aral Sea broke over the top of the bluff I am standing on. Today there is not a single drop of water here. This place is called the graveyard of ships, where skeletal vessels marooned on sand dunes wait for a sea that will never return. The rusting hulks of twelve ships covered in chalk graffiti are the remains of what was once a thriving maritime and fishing industry in the now-defunct port of Moynaq, which lies in the northwestern corner of Uzbekistan. I climb down from the bluff to examine the ship corpses. The air is heavy and stultified; I feel so light-headed that I lean against the sun-baked metal for support. Looking up at the wall several meters above me, I imagine the weight of the water-that-was pressing down upon me. The Aral Sea once had a surface area of around 67,500 square kilometers – about twice the size of Belgium – and was the world’s fourth largest inland body of water after the Caspian Sea in Asia, Lake Superior in North America, and Lake Victoria in Africa. Its cobalt expanse straddled Uzbekistan to the south and Kazakhstan to the north, and was fed by the majestic Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. But in the 1960s, after the Soviet state built a sprawling network of irrigation canals siphoning water from the rivers into the region’s ever-thirsty cotton fields, the sea began to shrink and retreat from its shores.
Image: Elena Senao @ Flickr