Moynaq and the Aral Sea
The water that serveth all that country is drawn by ditches out of the River Oxus, unto the great destruction of the said river, for which it cause itfalleth not unto the Caspian Sea as it hath done in times past, and in short time all that land is like to be destroyed, and to become a wilderness for want of water, when the river of Oxus shall fail.
Anthony Jenkinson, 1558
Aral Sea was once the fourth largest inland sea in the world. Moynaq, was the largest port on the Aral, a finger of coast where a significant part of the Aral catch was processed and canned. In 1921 as the Volga region suffered a terrible famine, Lenin appealed to the Aral fleet for help and within days 21,000 tonnes of fish had been dispatched, saving thousands of Russian lives. Today it is a nightmarish town of stagnant, corrosive pools and deserted factories, the victim of a Soviet crusade to overcome nature. Not a single fish can survive in the sea, 10,000 fishermen have lost their jobs and Moynaq has lost its raison d’etre.
The only reason to visit it is a macabre one; to witness the death throes of the sea and the dramatic sight of dozens of deserted fishing boats rusted at their moorings, submerged in sand, riding the crest of a sand dune, 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the shoreline. Many of the ships have been sold off for scrap in recent years so you might have to hunt around to find some. To visit the ship’s graveyard continue north through the town from the bus station for two kilometres and head northeast, over the crunchy, white top soil of salt and sea shells, towards the large canning factory. A solitary taster of the debacle ahead lies on display at the bus station and a wider view of the area can be gained from the northern promontory. The town has a small museum (closed Sunday) with photos and paintings of the Aral’s heyday.