Fish catch in the North Aral Sea has grown six-fold since 2006
May 18, 2018 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Once written off for dead, the North Aral Sea is now full of life.
posted by Chrysostom (14 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Oh good. I was worried that this was some horrible story about, "due to climate change, this formerly-insignificant fish has started swarming and the local ecosystem is going crazy; sure, plenty of fish for now, but it's not sustainable."

Instead, it's exactly the opposite: people noticed that fish were getting scarce; people took measures to make the place more hospitable to fish; yay more fish! With limits on harvesting so the fish can continue to thrive.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:19 AM on May 18, 2018 [20 favorites]

I have no doubt that, on the whole, the last 50 years have seen greater ecological catastrophes than the drying of the Aral Sea, but the sheer visibility of that process is both especially awful and instructively visible. But I've been dimly aware that projects to increase water flow have had some success over the past few years, and it is really heartening to read that, at least in the North Aral Sea (since there are two now), things are looking up.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 10:34 AM on May 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

“Anthropogenic ecological damage can be reversed by human intervention,”

This is great, though the scale of the Aral Sea disaster shouldn't be underestimated, it didn't even use to be split into North and South:

This rapid collapse over less than three decades—which environmental scientists say is one of the planet’s worst ecological disasters—is marked today by the sea’s reduced size. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What’s left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on May 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

Wow, what a ray of hope. This is almost less believable than all of the bad stuff that's happened in the world in the last several years. The Aral Sea has been officially hopeless and doomed since National Geographic first reported on it when I was in high school, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Topical and timely. I'm just finishing a paper on the Virgin Lands Campaign, which was the core cause of this ecological disaster.

Maybe it's that Taubman and Medvedev are sympathetic sources, but there is case to be made the Khrushchev was paving the road to Hell with good intentions- the Virgin Lands Campaign was influenced by the lessons of World War Two. The USSR wanted to developed wheat in Kazakhstan to give the USSR an agricultural reserve that was not easily bombed.
It also provided a pretext for developing Baikonour, and helped the Russification of the central Stans.

Essentially, the Virgin Lands Campaign was all about building up the population, agriculture, and industry of the USSR, because it would be harder to bomb. A classic case of making new problems to solve the older problems
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am hopeful that the success with the North will lead Uzbekistan to do something with the South.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:28 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

In unrelated but also happy eco news South Georgia island is now rodent-free.
posted by fings at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2018 [7 favorites]

If nothing else I hope other readers gain a sense of the true impact we're capable of having on our environment. Good and bad.
posted by Dillionaire at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2018

More unrelated but also happy eco news, dolphins appearing by the hundreds in the Chesapeake Bay.
posted by peeedro at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh rah!

Now, if we could only make our own Salton Sea less disgusting, that'd be good.

At least the Aral's waters were drained for irrigation. What's our excuse?
posted by Twang at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's a second phase of the revival of parts of the Aral Sea. I found a study detailing the benefits and procedures that will be used: Phase 2 Study
posted by RuvaBlue at 5:29 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Salton Sea problem doesn't really seem to be comparable, as the Salton Sea was created by man in 1905, by accident, then massively polluted and allowed to partially dry up. The dust it already sends all over Southern California is laden with pesticides, herbicides, cyanide, arsenic, and other pollutants-it's current influx is almost all farm runoff.

Even if there was water to spare, diverting it into the Salton would only put a bandaid on the problem, as there is no natural exit. You can't just dig a ditch to the ocean, as it's below sea level and has no outlet, so it would suck in the sea water, concentrate it, and we'd have an ever-increasing salinity and pollution issue. Admittedly, in a few short millennia the salt would crust up and form a cap, but it would be pretty noxious until the process was complete, but it's really not a workable solution.

Diverting the Colorado again seems politically impossible, so vice any major environmental change that increases water flow into the sea, it's destined to dry up and spread toxic dust. I suppose some eco-terrorist could blow up the levees that failed in 1905 that created the lake in the first place, do enough damage and it would fill up again, but that doesn't seem like a solution that should be relied on.

If the human race ever gets over its fear of geoengineering, there are some neat solutions involving multiple oceanic conduits and some creative use of tidal energy to keep it filled and flushed of toxins, but between NIMBYs and the chronic shortage of funds for such megaengineering, don't hold your breath.
posted by Blackanvil at 9:03 PM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

It's an interesting article. Things are definitely better than at the worst point when water levels were lowest and salinity was highest, but it's a long way from a full recovery.

The gains in the North Aral Sea were possible because of the construction of the Kokaral Dam -- looking at the imagery in Google maps makes it clear both the scale of the dam, and also how much of the former lake area has been effectively written off due to lack of water caused by upstream diversions.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:49 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh good. Yeah, throw some drift nets in there boys, fuck it all anyway.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:04 PM on May 20, 2018

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