Preserving what remains of the Aral Sea

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Living along what remains of the Aral Sea
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Living along what remains of the Aral Sea
Local residents with horses walk beside electric lines in the town of Aral, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Aral, which has a population of 32,000, is a former port town which is now 20-25 kilometers away from the sea. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Bibigul pours shubat, traditional drink made from camel milk, at family's Bolekun farm in the former sea village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A fisherman pours water out of his boat on the shore of the Aral Sea outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A girl looks above a fence in the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Kenzhibek and his son Ernur stand next to their camels in the village of Zhalanash, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Zhalanash, where some 700 people live, is close to what used to be a cove housing many fishing vessels and later became a tourist attraction known as "the ship graveyard". REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A local resident Galymzhan works at a fish sorting factory in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A fisherman refuels his motorcycle in the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
An sign showing a ship and a village name are seen at a sunset outside the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Pallas seagulls fly over the Aral Sea outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Villager Zhanabek Ismagambetov, who was born in 1973, cuts a fish as his niece Dariga looks on in the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A man walks with livestock at the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Fishermen ride in a truck to collect fish from a boat in shallow water by the Aral Sea, outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Fishermen sail a boat on the Aral Sea outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A abandoned ship lies between the coastline of the Aral Sea and sand dunes near the village of Akespe, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
House are surrounded by dunes in the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Students walk in front of a new school building in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Fishermen sail a boat on the Aral Sea outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Local resident Gabibolat Nurgaliyev, a retired doctor from the fishing village of Akespe, holds his grandson Sanzhar near the former port in the former coastal town of Aral, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Camel graze on a former seabed outside the village of Zhalanash, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Zhalanash, where some 700 people live, is close to what used to be a cove (small bay) housing many fishing vessels and later became a tourist attraction known as "the ship graveyard". REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A boy rides a bicycle in the village of Karateren, near the Aral Sea, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A boat is seen on the shore of the Aral Sea outside the village of Karateren, south-western Kazakhstan, April 15, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A ruined ship lays on a salinated part of the Aral Sea coastline near the village of Akespe, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
An abandoned ship lies next to a salinated part of the Aral Sea coastline near the village of Akespe, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Former fisherman Sagnai Zhurimbetov, 84, holds his 10-month-old great-grandson Ykhlas at his home in former sea town of of Aral, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. "With the water gone, we started doing whatever we could (to survive)," Zhurimbetov said. "Teams of fishermen travelled across Kazakhstan, to other lakes." REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Akkenzhe Abdiyeva plays dombra during a dinner at home in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Students attend a lesson at a school in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Food cooks at a farm in the former sea village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A students attends a lesson in a school in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
A sea shell is seen on a salinated part of the Aral Sea coastline near the village of Akespe, south-western Kazakhstan, April 16, 2017. Akespe, home to some 250 people, and Karateren, inhabited by about 150, used to be dominated by fishermen until the water receded too far away - but it is now back in Karateren. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
Boldai Zhaksylykova (2nd R) and her family members pray after dinner at home in the village of Bogen, south-western Kazakhstan, April 17, 2017. Bogen, populated by some 1,000 people, is a former fishermen's village that used to be on the seashore. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 
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ARAL SEA, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - The Aral Sea, once the world's fourth biggest lake, is most likely gone forever, its death having brought about decades of environmental disaster.

However, a project to salvage its northern part appears to have succeeded as commercial fishing is once again viable in the adjacent Kazakh towns and villages.

The Aral was nearly destroyed as a result of the Soviet Union's plan to boost cotton production by diverting Syr Darya and Amu Darya, the two rivers feeding it, to irrigate the desert.

Construction of irrigation facilities on the rivers began in the 1940s and by the 1960s the coast line was receding by about three meters a year, said 84-year-old Sagnai Zhurimbetov, who had worked as a fisherman on the Aral for 56 years and now lives in the former port town.

"With the water gone, we started doing whatever we could (to survive)," Zhurimbetov said. "Teams of fishermen traveled across Kazakhstan, to other lakes."

Others took up animal breeding - camels now graze on what used to be seabed near Karateren village - or left altogether. Throughout the area, most of the soil is covered with a white salty crust, which makes farming a tough job.

By the 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell apart, the Aral had split into several smaller bodies of water and Kazakhstan focused on salvaging its northern part which lies fully within its territory, others being shared with Uzbekistan.

LESS SALTY

The idea was simple - build a dam separating the so-called North Aral Sea from the drying-up remains of the southern part and increase water flow from Syr Darya.

The dam was completed in 2005 and over the following decade annual fish catch nearly quintupled in the Kyzylorda region, according to official statistics.

The coast line, which had once receded as much as 100 kilometers from the port town of Aral, is now 20-25 kilometers away as it fluctuates seasonally.

Some villages are once again within walking distance from the lake while the water has become much less salty, allowing a greater diversity of fish to thrive.

Today, fishermen in Karateren - which is slowly growing in population - mostly catch bream, carp and pikeperch, the latter often exported.

The return of commercial fishing has also created jobs at processing facilities where fish is sorted and frozen. Some families earn their living by importing and selling motorboats.

Still, the boats which fishermen on the Aral use today to check their nets are tiny compared with trawlers whose carcasses dot the former seabed, waiting to be picked apart for scrap metal.

"The small Aral is not a real sea," says Zhurimbetov. "The old one used to have waves 7 meters high."

(Reporting by Shamil Zhumatov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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