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

Photo Essay
Mongolian Reindeer Herders Defend Traditions

Learn about the Dukha, traditional reindeer herders of Northern Mongolia.

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

Learn the story of Kiribati, where rising seas are forcing this entire island nation to relocate.

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

Learn about the Moken, a seafaring people who have been living on the Andaman Sea in Thailand for centuries.

Create your library

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

Winners and Finalists: The Environment Is in You

This contest challenged students to take a photograph or create an original illustration that documents the fragility, hope, and future of our planet’s ecosystem due to climate change. 

Watch Anytime, Anywhere

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