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Haunting images reveal the demise of the Aral Sea by cotton farming and climate change

The loss of the Aral Sea is one of the most haunting examples of climate change and industrialisation on the planet.

Once a mighty body of water covering a landmass half the size of England, all that now remains of the oasis is a handful of rusting ship carcasses on the baking sand.

Shocking new images have captured the moment climate change experts explored the now-landlocked ships.

They were taking part in a nearby international conference which will discuss the remediation of consequences of the Aral Sea catastrophe, being held in Tashkent.

Unesco has branded the demise of the Aral Sea as an example of an ‘environmental tragedy’.

The disappearance of this huge body of water was caused by a combination of climate change, and the demands of the Uzbek cotton industry, which continues to thrive today.

 

The loss of the Aral Sea is one of the most haunting and disturbing examples of climate change. Once a mighty body of water, all that remains of this once-great oasis is a handful of rusting ship carcasses

Once the fourth-largest inland expanse of water in the world, the sea once covered an area of 26,000 square miles—an area larger than the state of West Virginia. Pictured is a comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right)

Once the fourth-largest inland expanse of water in the world, the sea once covered an area of 26,000 square miles—an area larger than the state of West Virginia. Pictured is a comparison of the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right)

The Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest inland expanse of water in the world, covering an area of 26,000 square miles – larger than the state of West Virginia. 

But since the 1960s, a devastating regime of Soviet irrigation and inadequate replenishment programmes has all-but expunged the sea from the face of the Earth.

By 1997, the Aral Sea had already shrunk to 10 per cent of its original size and split into two four separate lakes, with the majority of the remaining water in Uzbekistan, and a smaller portion left in Kazakhstan. 

In the intervening years, the water continued to disappear and the Eastern region of the Aral Sea is now known as the Aralkum Desert.

The Soviet Union’s desire to develop huge cotton plantations is widely blamed for the creation of the desert.

Apocalyptic images have captured the moment climate change experts explored these ships that serve as a painful reminder of mankind's devastating impact on planet Earth

Apocalyptic images have captured the moment climate change experts explored these ships that serve as a painful reminder of mankind’s devastating impact on planet Earth

Experts who took part in an international conference on the issues concerning the softening of the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis in Tashkent, inspect the dried area (pictured)

Experts who took part in an international conference on the issues concerning the softening of the consequences of the Aral Sea Crisis in Tashkent, inspect the dried area (pictured)

Since these glory days in the 1960s, a vicious circle of over zealous Soviet irrigation and inadequate replenishment programmes has all but expunged the Aral Sea from the face of the Earth. By 1997 it had shrunk to 10 per cent of its original size

Since these glory days in the 1960s, a vicious circle of over zealous Soviet irrigation and inadequate replenishment programmes has all but expunged the Aral Sea from the face of the Earth. By 1997 it had shrunk to 10 per cent of its original size

Cotton remains the main source of income for many newly independent republics.

To sustain its growing cotton industry, construction of irrigation canals started in the 1940s.

By 1960, some 60 cubic kilometres of water was being diverted to the land each year, causing the level of water to drop by an average of 31-35 inches each year.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing ships stranded in a sandy wasteland.

Camels pass a ship cemetery next to the town of Muynak.The Soviet Union's desire to develop huge cotton plantations is responsible for the dying sea

Camels pass a ship cemetery next to the town of Muynak.The Soviet Union’s desire to develop huge cotton plantations is responsible for the dying sea

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air

All that is left of this once great inland sea is a barren dessert populated by sweltering tourists exploring the physical scars of the environmental catastrophe in the shape of the scarred remains of several marooned trawler ships

All that is left of this once great inland sea is a barren dessert populated by sweltering tourists exploring the physical scars of the environmental catastrophe in the shape of the scarred remains of several marooned trawler ships

In an interview with National Geographic, Yusup Kamalov, a senior researcher in wind energy at the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences, said: ‘This is what the end of the world looks like.

‘If we ever have Armageddon, the people of Karakalpakstan are the only ones who will survive, because we are already living it.’ 

A report by the International Labour Organisation revealed that there are ‘systematic plans’ in place to eradicate forced and child labour from the cotton farms in Uzbekistan.

The once vast single expanse of water was split into a large southern Uzbek part and a smaller Kazakh portion. In the intervening years, the water continued to disappear and the Eastern region of the Aral Sea is now known as the Aralkum Desert

The once vast single expanse of water was split into a large southern Uzbek part and a smaller Kazakh portion. In the intervening years, the water continued to disappear and the Eastern region of the Aral Sea is now known as the Aralkum Desert



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