The Aral Salmon Story.


The Aral Salmon, scientifically known as Salmo trutta aralensis, was native to the Aral Sea and its tributary river, the Amu Darya. Similar in appearance to other salmonids, the Aral Salmon fed on smaller fish and aquatic invertebrates, playing a crucial role in the Aral Sea ecosystem’s food web. It reproduced by spawning in the tributary river, where the young would grow before migrating back to the Aral Sea. In the 1960s, the Aral Sea tributary rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, were diverted to support the cotton industry in Uzbekistan for irrigation. This led to a drastic reduction of water inflow to the Aral Sea, decreasing its volume and raising the water salinity level, creating an inhospitable environment for the Aral Salmon and other species. By the early 1990s, the Aral Salmon had become functionally extinct, although the disaster was officially recognized only in the early 2000s. It took only 30 years for the species to become extinct. We can still see this fish on postage stamps. 

Many native fish species, including sturgeons and various freshwater species, disappeared due to the increased salinity and shrinking water volume. The ecological collapse also led to the decline of various invertebrate species that formed the base of the aquatic food web. The wetlands around the Aral Sea, crucial stopover points for migratory birds such as flamingos, pelicans, and cormorants, dried up, resulting in declines in bird populations and the need for alternative migratory routes and habitats for many species. Resident bird species that relied on the aquatic ecosystem, such as the Dalmatian pelican and the white-tailed eagle, experienced population declines due to the loss of food sources and nesting grounds. Mammals like the Saiga antelope that depended on the Aral Sea and its surrounding areas for water and food have been affected as well. The drying of the Aral Sea also led to the loss of wetland vegetation, which provided habitat and food for many species, resulting in cascading effects on the entire ecosystem.