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Аral is alive and is waiting for tourists

In spite of all, Aral is still alive. And  this lonely sea deserves visiting and touching its water surface.

Nikita Makarenko has recently visited the Western Aral region and saw really alive sea — with waves, tide and sandy beach. Even with its present conditions, the area of this part of the Aral is four times more than the area of the Dead Sea. In his newspaper column the author describes unreal picturesque landscapes of the region, consults the people who wish to see Aral personally and gives recommendations on the improvement of the tourist infrastructure.

Aral is not giving up. Everything is against it: economical anthropogenic activities, climate change, melting of glaciers, subtle nature cycles. But, in spite of all, it is still alive.  It is here, in our country -Uzbekistan. And this lonely sea deserves visiting and touching its water surface.

To say honestly – none of the world known remarkable sight did not strike me as much as panorama of the Western Aral Sea looking from the upland of the Usturt plateau. This is really celestial, nonterrestrial landscape.

Panorama of the Western Aral from the Usturt plateau. Photo: NikitaMakarenko

And now imagine that the snow-white salt desert is all around, and billions of shells are under your feet. And at once the old philosophic problem comes to your mind: what is more in the world — the former Aral shells or the stars in the sky?

The rocky cliff of the gorgeous Usturt plateau cuts the desert directly in the middle. There you can feel inexpressible fragrant scant of the steppe grasses and see rich and diverse fauna, stone cemeteries of nomads with mysterious symbols.

None of the human beings is in the radius of hundreds of kilometers. No telephone, no internet. Only the sea is there  – the real sea with waves, tide and sandy beach. The salt sea, in which you can not be drown and simply lie on its surface. 

Western Aral view from the Usturt plateau. Photo: Nikita Makarenko

Survived sea

You can say: but we heard so many times and read a lot that the Aral Sea is dry. And in many sources it was recorded that the ecological catastrophe occurred, and the Aral Sea can not be recreated. Yes, this is a fact. The tragedy of the Aral Sea has no analogues in the world history. This lake which was the fourth one among the biggest lakes of the world had lost 89% of the water surface and 97% of the water volume in the period of 1960 - 2014.

The justice has no doubts: the human beings are guilty for the death of the Aral Sea. By the opinion of scientists it follows, that 70% of the sea level drop is determined by economic activities, i.e., by irrational water consumption of Syrdarja and Amudarja rivers. And only 30% of this guilt is caused by climate factors.

However, not everything is lost! The Aral Sea is alive. But it is now of another kind. The former sea can never be back again, but anyhow, hopefully, the life of the rest lakes: the Small Aral and the Western Aral can be supported with success. The level of the Small Aral which is on Kazakhstan territory is rising due to the built Kokaral dam. The fishery is being successfully developed there.

The Western Aral Sea, the major part of which is on Uzbekistan territory, is being stabilized gradually. Nowadays the Western Aral is not sized salt lake the surface area of which is 3270 square kilometers. This is four times more than the famous Dead Sea. At the same time, the salt content in the Dead Sea is two times more that that of the Aral Sea. The depth of the Western Aral Sea in some places is deeper than 20 meters.

The shore of the Western Aral Sea. Photo: Nikita Makarenko / “Gazeta.uz”.

By the opinion of scientists it follows, that the Aral Sea will live: ”If the current tendencies (ground water inflow, runoff of the rain and melt water and outflow from the Small Aral Sea) will be kept, then in due time the level of the Western Aral basin will continue to drop, and its surface area will continue to shrink, and then it may be possible that the level stabilizes near the mark about 21 meter [depth] with the sea surface area of 2560 square kilometers”. This is an opinion of the well-known investigations of this region Philip Micklin (USA) and Nikolai Aladin (Russia) presented in scientific work “Possible future of the Aral Sea and of its fauna” published in 2016.

Not only they had made these outcomes.  In 2007 the scientific team of the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences head by the deputy director, Dr. of Geogr. Peter Zavjyalov had discovered the intensive water supply to the Western Aral from the fresh water flow from the side of Ustyurt plateau.

Vividimpressions

Let us believe that the Western Aral will not disappear! And as far as for now, I appeal to the brave travelers to visit that unique place, to make a lot of photos and to publish them in the social network. Then more people will be informed about Aral and its problems.

If I did not convince you in the beauty of that place yet, then you can be familiarized with the opinions of tourists who have visited the shore of the Western Aral Sean in May 2017.

Dinara Adylova (Tashkent): “I have thought that Aral is surrounded with the lifeless salt desert, and I saw green flourishing steppe with a lot of birds and animals”.

Steppe agama, inhabiting the Ustyurt plateau. Photo: Dinara Adylova 

Natasha Ros (Saint-Petersburg): “When I have got a chance to travel to Uzbekistan, then the first point worth to visit was Aral! I was amazed with it long time ago: once I have seen it from the illuminator of aircraft. When we have reached the sea, I could not help myself with exaltation — there was water in the middle of the desert and it was endless! Could I even imagine that it was possible to swim? No! But I know this for sure now that the sea exists though it is a secret”.

Maxim Sobolevskii (Saint-Petersburg): “The main impression of the sea, besides the people-free beauty, — was a pleasure of taking bath. We were lucky with weather. In the dry hot day coming into the sea was very comfortable, and salt water kept you lying. These were very unique sensations”.

The shore of the Western Aral Sea. Photo: Nikita Makarenko / “Gazeta.uz”.

Aralkum desert. The road from Muinak along the former bed of the Aral Sea. Photo: Natasha Ros 

Chinki of Ustyurt. Margin of plateau destructed by wind and erosion. Photo: Nikita Makarenko

Ship cemetery of Muinak. Photo: NikitaMakarenko

Alive or dead water?

To my mind, many readers of this article have already formulated a question: “May be my third hand will grow after bathing in the Aral Sea”? I make my best telling about that paradise but the truth can not be hidden: Zone of the Aral Sea region is the zone of ecological disaster.

The dried bottom of the Aral Sea contains not only salt but also chemical substances which were widely used in the times of USSR for agriculture purposes and accumulated in the sea water, as well as in the former sea bed. Strong winds disseminate dust and salt injuring flora and fauna. Duststormsspreadoverformorethan500 kilometers.  People of this region are sick because of breathing-in this toxic dust.

Some of the scientists think that the most serious health problems of people of this region arise because of the low living standard, low quality of the health care, food and water. That is why the economic development of Muinak is so important — money got from tourism sector wouldl facilitate the growth of well-being of the local population and alleviate negative economic consequences.

Salt on the shore of the Western Aral Sea. Photo: Natasha Ros. 

I would have never applied to people with the appeal to visit the region of the Western Aral if I was not completely convinced in the safety of such trip. Thisisaprincipalissueofthejournalistethics. Nipping on ahead, I would like to state that after analysis of all obtained information, including also the exclusive comments of experts, the following conclusion can be made: short-time visit to the Western Aral and swimming in its water is safe.

We have applied to the most famous investigators of this sea with the question: ‘Is it safe to swim in the Western Aral Sea?”. Their opinions are rather unanimous.

“From my point of view, the basin of the Western Aral is suitable for swimming”, — concluded Philip Micklin, the investigator and author of scientific works on Aral, Professor on Geography of the West  Michigan University (USA).

“For almost 20 years I visit the Western Aral Sea. People began to swim in the sea during the last 15 years as I have seen. Till now I did not hear about anything dangerous. People even create legends about healing features of its water and mud”, — informed Yusup Kamalov, the chairman of Karakalpak “Union for the protection of Aral and Amudarja” scientific society.

Nikolai Aladin, one of the most active investigators of the problems of the Aral Sea region, the author of 150 scientific works devoted to the problems of the Aral and Caspian seas, scientific worker of Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences is even more optimistic. His opinion is based on his own studies and investigations and works of his colleagues notes that: “the hypergalline water and mud of the Aral Sea are healing. They are similar to the water and mud of the Dead Sea in Israel. May be, cosmetics preparations can be made of these substances in future”.