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Moynaq, Aral Sea

Moynaq, Aral Sea


The Aral Sea was an endorheic lake (i.e. a closed drainage basin that retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans), lying between Kazakhstan in the north and Uzbekistan in the south. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to over 1,100 islands that once dotted its waters; in the Turkic languages aral means "island, archipelago". The Aral Sea drainage basin encompasses Uzbekistan and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world with an area of 68,000 km², the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. By 2007, it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes – the North Aral Sea, the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea, and one smaller lake between the North and South Aral Seas. By 2009, the south-eastern lake had disappeared and the south-western lake had retreated to a thin strip at the western edge of the former southern sea; in subsequent years, occasional water flows have led to the south-eastern lake sometimes being replenished to a small degree. Satellite images taken by NASA in August 2014 revealed that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the Aral Sea had completely dried up. The eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert.


In an ongoing effort in Kazakhstan to save and replenish the North Aral Sea, a dam project was completed in 2005; in 2008, the water level in this lake had risen by 12 m compared to 2003. Salinity has dropped, and fish are again found in sufficient numbers for some fishing to be viable. The maximum depth of the North Aral Sea is 42 m (as of 2008).


The shrinking of the Aral Sea has been called "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters". The region's once-prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequential serious public health problems.


Moynaq also spelled as Mo‘ynoq and Muynak is a city in northern Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan. Formerly a sea port, now home to only a few thousand residents at most, Moynaq’s population has been declining precipitously since the 1980s due to the recession of the Aral Sea.


Once a bustling fishing community and Uzbekistan's only port city with tens of thousands of residents, Moynaq is now dozens of kilometres from the rapidly receding shoreline of the Aral Sea. Fishing had always been part of the economy of the region, and Moynaq became a centre of industrial fishing and canning. However, overfishing the shallow sea in the past made it very susceptible to economic collapse as the Aral Sea has dried up. A regional agricultural monoculture dominated by cotton production which diverts water from tributary rivers of the sea into irrigation, and severe pollution caused by agricultural chemical runoff, are causing the sea to evaporate and the water that remains is highly saline and very toxic, causing the ecological disaster which is destroying the sea and killing the residents of the towns in its vicinity, including Moynaq.


(sources: and

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Taken on April 29, 2008