The Aral Sea is situated in Central Asia, between the Southern part of Kazakhstan and Northern Uzbekistan. Before the mid-60s of the 20th century the Aral Sea was the worlds fourth largest lake: its area was 68,000 km2, it was 426 km long, 284 km wide and its greatest depth was 68 m.
Numerous vessels used to plough the sea one day. Most of them were fishing boats; however, some were military ships belonging to the Amudarya flotilla. Several large ports and fish factories were situated near the sea. The settlements on the shore were buried deep in trees, and flocks of aquatic birds used to fly above the generous waters of this great Central Asian lake. Until the 1970s the Aral Sea was a home for 34 species of fish, 20 of which were of commercial importance. In 1946 the lake gave 23 thousand tonnes of fish, while in the 1980s the annual figure reached 60 thousand tonnes.
The 1930s were characterised by intensive construction, mainly in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, of a broad network of irrigation canals. The waters of the two great Central Asian rivers raised the regional agriculture to an incredibly high level. As a result, the subtle balance in the ecosystem of the sea basin was disturbed. In the 1960s it became apparent that something had gone wrong. The water level was dropping very fast. In 1989 the Aral Sea was divided into two parts by a strip of land: the Small Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the Large Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. By the early 2000s, the absolute water level in the sea went down to 31 m, which is 22 m lower than the initial level recorded in the late 1950s. In 2001, the South (Large) Aral Sea was divided into western and eastern parts. In 2003, the surface area of the Aral Sea was about a quarter of the original, and the volume of sea water was about 10%. Today, instead of the former deep sea, there is a new sand and saline Aralkum desert with the total area of 38 000 km².
Notwithstanding, tours to the Aral Sea are highly popular today. Tourists are attracted by the beauty of its precipitous shore, the incredible sunsets and the possibility to swim in the disappearing sea and to see the cemetery of ships in the former port of Muynak. The road to the Aral Sea (550 km from Nukus to Cape Aktumsyk) is also very interesting. On the way tourists can stop at beautiful Sudochye lake to take some pictures of the littoral landscapes and the huge amounts of birds gathering there, and at ancient Sak burial grounds near the village of Urta. Tourists can also travel across the wild Ustyurt plateau and enjoy a unique nature of the region.