The Sea That Once Was

By | August 3, 2019

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The remains of the Aral Sea. Source: (Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Not too long ago, the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest body of water in the world. Today what remains is mostly a toxic, desiccated wasteland. In 2010, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced the Aral as “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.” The story of the Aral Sea and its destruction is a cautionary tale of poor decisions and apathy.

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Map of the Aral Sea. Source: (


The Aral Sea was located in central Asia in today’s Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan although its watershed included Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan. It was fed by two main tributaries, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. A shallow sea, it reached a maximum depth of 180 feet but was spread out over 26,000 square miles. It boasted a robust fishing industry and large towns sprung up along the seaside.