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Russian Ecologists Say All Fish Dead In South Aral Sea

Satellite images show the dramatic retreat of the Aral Sea’s shoreline from 2006 (left) to 2009.
Satellite images show the dramatic retreat of the Aral Sea’s shoreline from 2006 (left) to 2009.
Russian environmental scientists say that all of the fish in the Uzbek part of the Aral Sea have died as the southern part of the lake continues to shrink, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Russia's Institute of Oceanology made its comments based on a research expedition to the Uzbek side of the Aral Sea -- known as the South Aral Sea -- earlier this month.

Petr Zavyalov, deputy director of the institute, said the situation on the South Aral Sea has severely deteriorated, with the water shrinking another 1.5 meters away from the shore in the past year. The sea is now less than 10 percent of its original size.

He said the concentration of salts and minerals in the sea has also risen greatly, with one liter of seawater containing some 150 grams of salt and minerals.

Although the number of fish in the South Aral Sea had decreased to almost zero by 2007 because of the high salinity, Zavyalov says that fish have now "completely died out."

The situation is different in Kazakhstan's portion of the sea, known as the North Aral Sea or the Small Aral, where a restoration effort spurred on by a dam project has allowed the water level in this part of the lake to rise by two meters since 2005 and for some fishing to take place.

The destruction of the Aral Sea was caused by the Soviet-era expansion of irrigated land in Central Asia to increase cotton production.

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have continued to siphon off millions of liters of water from the two rivers that flow into the Aral Sea -- the Sir Darya and Amu Darya -- to irrigate cotton fields and other crops.

The Aral Sea supported a thriving commercial fishing industry employing tens of thousands of people in the early 1960s. By 1977, the fish harvest was reduced by 75 percent, and by the early 1980s commercial fishing had been eliminated.

Zavyalov says up to 75 million tons of salt are being blown away from its shores every year, polluting many bordering areas.

The importance of the South Aral Sea has grown recently as Uzbekistan began widescale oil and gas exploration of the seabed. The exploration is being conducted by a powerful consortium of the South Korean company KNOC, China's CNPC, Malaysia's Petronas, and Russia's LUKoil.