Tastubek, Kazakhstan – The little village of Tastubek is situated in the North Aral Sea, 90km from Aralsk, a former port on the Aral Sea.
This part of what remains of the Aral Sea is known as the Small Aral. The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest inland body of water, but has been for ever altered by the Soviet era irrigation policies to reclaim the desert for cotton farming by rerouting the rivers the Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
Two separate lakes – the North and South Arals – are all that’s left, while most of its former seabed has been reclaimed by the sand.
But efforts to restore the lake have yielded some results recently. Since the completion of the Kokaral dam in 2005, financed by the World Bank, and the completion of hydropower stations, the winds of change have reached Tastubek.
Akerke and her husband Nurzhan moved to the village a few years ago and make a living from fishing, an industry which, until recently, seemed to have been wiped out in this part of Kazakstan.
The sea, which was over 80km away in 2010, is now only 20km from the houses of the village. More than 15 kinds of fish have reappeared, allowing fishing production to expand from 600 tonnes in 1996 to 7,200 tonnes today, according to Serik Dyussenbayev, a guide living in Aralsk.
Bracing the 45C heat in the summer and the -25C winters, Nurzhan and his fishermen friends work every day of the week catching fish.
In Tastubek, Akerke, Nurzhan and their daughter Dilnaz feel hopeful for the future. Fortunes at the Small Aral region may be changing. The ground is getting greener and birds sing along in the reeds.
The second phase of the dam project, with a 4m higher wall, will bring the water to Aralsk and fully restore the North Aral part of the lake, explained Dyussenbayev.