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Uploaded on Thursday 01 Mar 2012
The inlet to the Kara Bogaz Gol before and after construction of the dam
Original cartography by Philippe Rekacewicz (le Monde Diplomatique) assisted by Laura Margueritte and Cecile Marin, later updated by Riccardo Pravettoni (GRID-Arendal), Novikov, Viktor (Zoi Environment Network)
The scientists were unable to agree on the reasons for the drop in sea level that was roughly equivalent to a 10 per cent reduction in its surface area between 1930 and 1977.
It was decided to close the passage. Work proceeded in
February 1980 despite the fact that the level of the Caspian
had started to rise again three years earlier.
The Soviet engineers apparently assumed it was only a
temporary change. Only a narrow canal was left allowing
a small amount of water to pass, thanks to which the water
in the Kara Bogaz Gol gulf was expected to last a further
25 years. Much to everyone’s surprise the gulf dried up
10 times faster than had been forecast by the Water
Problems Institute and by autumn 1983 it was all over.
The pink flamingos died in droves, the little brine shrimp
on which they fed having disappeared. The lagoon
turned into a vast desert covered with a 50-centimetre
layer of precipitated salt, which was picked up by the
wind and blown for hundreds of kilometres, as far as the
Chernoziem (fertile soil) area of Russia, raising the salt
content of the soil. With the closure of the strait, the gulf
also stopped acting as a natural hydrological regulation
system (keeping the salt content at a relatively low level).
The ensuing increase in the salt content of the southern
part of the Caspian, to levels exceeding 15 grams per litre,
had disastrous consequences for the sturgeon population.
In the spring of 1992, in view of the scale of the disaster,
Turkmenistan, which had just declared its independence,
decided to recover the Kara Bogaz Gol gulf from the
desert. It therefore destroyed the dyke, restoring the
connection between the sea and the gulf.
In the meantime closing the gulf had resulted in the
collapse of the salt industry.