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22 December 2023

Moynak – Memories of the Aral Sea

Back in the 1960s, Moynak, Uzbekistan had been a bustling fishing port on a peninsula jutting into the Aral Sea’s southern flank. Now it is around 100km from the Aral’s nearest coast. Mark Elliott when there to find what’s left of the place.

Moynak – Memories of the Aral Sea

Images by Mark Elliott

Once the world’s second largest lake, the Aral is now known mostly as being one of the world’s worst ecological disaster zones, having withered away over the last 60 years due to over use (and inefficient management) of water from the Amu Darya river which used to feed it. The great inland sea has now been reduced to a few disconnected remnants barely 10% the size it was in the 1960s. Moynak resident Ali Shaddin is one of last locals who spent much of his career as a fisherman on the Aral Sea.  

Ali Shaddin wearing a Karakalpak hat given to him, he claims, by the British Ambassador

Ali has come to Moynak’s new Aral Sea Museum to talk to myself and some fellow visitors about better times. He started fishing as a teenager in the late 1960s and catches appeared to be endless during the early years. The men would go out for 15 days at a time, four per small fishing barge towed or manoeuvred into position and supplied by a much larger ship from the cooperative which would collect the catch and from which meals were collected. He almost salivates with delight in remembering these meals which he recalls as being ‘the best in the Soviet Union’ with ‘even canned beef from Moscow’. And ‘even beer’ he chuckles, though that stopped when the committee bosses started realising that there was more interest in getting the beer than in offloading the catch.