A rusty, abandoned truck sits on a street in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, on February 27, 2018.
A Muslim graveyard is photographed at sunrise near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A Kazakh woman milks a camel in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A Kazakh woman milks a camel in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A woman collects snow to be melted for drinking in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
 A camel walks near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Two men exchange a cigarette outside a home in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Children play with sleds in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A Kazakh man attempts to lead a camel to a shelter in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Children are picked up from a school in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, on February 27, 2018.
A man works on a Russian 4-wheel drive vehicle in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Fishermen try to fix an ice drill in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Fishermen ride in a Russian jeep on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Men use a drill to cut through the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 26, 2018.
Men use a pick to break a hole in the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Men use nets to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Men use nets to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Men use nets to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
After being caught, a fish is left on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A man uses a net to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
After being caught, fish are left on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Men drive 4-wheel drive vehicles on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 26, 2018.
A man uses a pick to break through the ice on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 26, 2018.
Men use nets to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 26, 2018.
Men use nets to ice fish on the frozen surface of the Aral Sea near Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 26, 2018.
A fisherman prepares a meal in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
A bin of fish are weighed upon delivery to a fish processing facility in Aralsk, Kazakhstan, on February 27, 2018.
A fisherman prepares a fish for cooking in Tastubek, Kazakhstan, on February 25, 2018.
Photo Essay

The Aral Sea

Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

As the sun rises on a cold winter morning in Tastubek, a small Kazakh fishing village near the banks of the Aral Sea, the town comes to life. Women milk camels in the cold corrals, children sled on snowbanks, and men pack fishing gear into Russian four-wheel drive trucks. This commotion belies the fact that Tastubek was nearly a ghost town 15 years ago.

The Aral Sea, once the fourth-largest lake in the world, started drying out and shrinking after the Soviets diverted river water away from it for irrigation purposes in the 1950s. By the 1980s, the salinity in the water was so high that freshwater fish could not survive, thus effectively killing off the entire fishing industry in southwestern Kazakhstan. The towns that depended on the income of the fishing industry were doomed, and Tastubek, once a thriving fishing village of 90 houses, only had nine left occupied by the mid-1990's.

But a 2005 dam launched by the World Bank has turned things around in Kazakhstan. Thanks to this project, the water surface of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan has expanded and the freshwater fish catch has grown more than six times since. Once nearly barren, the Aral Sea now hosts 15 different types of fish, according to the fishermen of Tastubek, and income has risen dramatically. The number of occupied houses in Tastubek is back up to 34, with five families moving back in the last year alone.

Kidirbai Ibgragimov was a young boy during the end of the Soviet fishing boom in Tastubek and was one of the few that stayed through the tough times employed as a camel breeder. Now working as a fisherman with his son, he has seen the hopes and fortunes of the town recover. Kidirbai is determined that his son stay close and partake in these new fortunes, saying, "Next year, I am going to build a new house for him. My son will get married and he will continue fishing."

More to Explore

Mongolian Reindeer Herders Defend Traditions
Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Photo Essay Mongolian Reindeer Herders Defend Traditions
Kiribati is Gone
Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Photo Essay Kiribati is Gone
Moken Sea Nomads
Create your library

Sign up or log in to save your favorite stories and lessons, create custom collections, and share with others.

Photo Essay Moken Sea Nomads

Watch Anytime, Anywhere

Watch our films on your phone, tablet, or connected TV.