Boats that once plied the Aral Sea are now stranded more than 75 miles from water. 
Credit: Sergey Ponomarev / The New York Times

Walking toward the shrinking remnants of what used to be the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan was like entering hell.

All around was a desert devoid of life, aside from scrubby saxaul trees. Dust swirled in 110-degree Fahrenheit heat under a throbbing red sun. I reached the edge of one of the scattered lakes that are all that remain of this once-great body of water. I took off my shoes and waded in. The water was so full of salt that it felt viscous, not quite liquid.

In the nearby town of Muynak, black-and-white newsreels in the local museum and pictures in the family photo albums of residents tell of better times. During the Soviet era, fishing communities like Muynak ringed the sea, thriving off its bounty: sturgeon, flounder, caviar and other staples of Soviet dinner tables. In the town I met Oktyabr Dospanov, an archaeologist who grew up along the Aral’s shores […]

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