If ever there was an image that summed up man's disregard for the environment, then it would be the abandoned ships lying in Mo'ynoq in western Uzbekistan. Today, Mo'ynoq is more or less deserted, but it used to be a prosperous port town and the vast expanse of desert surrounding it used to be the Aral Sea. So what happened?
In short, man’s unquenchable thirst for water happened. In the 1960s, the Aral Sea was the fourth-largest lake in the world, and Mo’ynoq’s population consisted mostly of fishermen. But Uzbekistan, like most of the surrounding regions, was under the control of the Soviet Union, which decided to divert much of the water in the Aral Sea for irrigation projects and the cotton industry.
The Aral Sea’s tributaries were re-diverted, and as the water flowing into the lake decreased, the sun was able to more easily evaporate it. Pollution from the cotton industry also reduced the number of fish, but nothing was done by the Soviet government to reverse the impact. Each year, the shoreline progressivley receded more and more until finally the lake had all but disappeared — as had the livelihood of the local population.
Man’s hubris then started to affect the local population’s health as dust storms churned up the now-dry sea bed. All the pollutants began to poison the lungs of the locals, forcing many to leave the region. It’s no wonder that the shrinking of the Aral Sea has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.”
Today, some still remain at Mo’ynoq, eking out a meagre existence via disaster tourism, but the entire region is in a state of ruin. Many of the locals, such as the Karakalpak people, have lived in the area for thousands of years and it is feared the current generation will be the last to live there. Mo’ynoq now suffers incredibly hot summers and freezing winters, and the abandoned ships serve as a constant reminder of what the town used to be and what could happen elsewhere unless man realises the impact he has on the world around him.