Aral Sea coming back to life after decades of draining damage

The dramatic diminution and pollution of Central Asia’s Aral Sea is one of the 20th century’s most stunning eco-disasters — but its restoration may become an eco-miracle of the 21st. Since the World Bank’s $85.8 million Kok-Aral Dam project began in 2001, the Aral has regained millions of cubic feet of water. Long-abandoned village harbors are reviving, with Kazakh fishers putting back out to sea for carp and flounder after their boats sat high and dry for decades. The Aral was once the world’s fourth-largest lake and a major source of fish for the region, but the Soviet Union diverted rivers feeding the Aral to irrigate Central Asian cotton fields, turning it into a small, dank, saline stew. Twenty-one-year-old Yerbolat Sartaganov plans to work in the petro-industry for now. “But my grandfather was a fisherman,” he says, “and when the water returns I will be a fisherman too.”