Turning Environmental Crisis into Opportunity: Inspiring Efforts of Aral Tenizi

ASTANA—The tragic tale of environmental devastation in the Aral Sea is well-documented, marking it as one of the most significant ecological disasters of the 20th century. However, amidst the desolation lies a beacon of hope in the town of Aralsk, where the Aral Tenizi (from Kazakh – Aral Sea)  public association spearheads remarkable initiatives to combat the sea’s decline.

Photo credit: USAID. Click to see the map in full size. The map is designed by The Astana Times

Recently, I joined a comprehensive expedition led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Aral Sea basin in the Kyzylorda Region of Kazakhstan. Our mission was to see firsthand the 500-hectare Oasis project on the Aral Sea’s former shores. However, we had a chance to meet different people and hear about various projects being implemented locally. 

One particular project that deeply resonated with me highlighted the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the local community in Aralsk. Despite facing significant challenges, the locals are not only enduring but also thriving, turning the tide against environmental degradation.

Baimakhanova, the visionary leader of Aral Tenizi is sharing details about the project on April 14, 2024 in Aralsk. Photo credit: The Astana Times

One standout project involves removing plastic fishing nets that have ensnared marine life and marred the sea’s ecosystem. Through ingenuity and determination, Aral Tenizi has transformed this environmental hazard into a resource for progress.

“Our focus is on clearing the seabed of nylon nets, which not only harm marine life but also degrade our environment. These fishing nets, each spanning 100 meters, pose a persistent threat as they do not decompose. Additionally, their entanglement with fish leads to decomposition, exacerbating environmental harm. Leveraging both the detrimental nets and the abundant sea sand found in Aralsk, our foremen repurpose them into paving slabs,” Baimakhanova explained. 

By repurposing discarded nets and blending them with sea sand, which this region is abundant with, the association has pioneered the production of durable paving slabs. Each slab, crafted from 75% sand, 24.5% recycled nets, and 0.5% paint, symbolizes a triumph over adversity. These eco-friendly tiles are built to last for decades and offer a sustainable solution to the region’s pressing needs.

Baimakhanova is answering question from US Ambassador Rosenblum on April 14, 2024 in Aralsk. Photo credit: The Astana Times

“Our project offers several benefits: it helps clean the sea from harmful waste, generates employment opportunities, and supplies the community with environmentally friendly and reasonably priced tiles. A single tile is priced at 500 tenge ($1) per square meter or 4,500 tenge (up to $10) for a set of nine pieces,” she said.

Baimakhanova’s passion for environmental stewardship is palpable as she discusses the project’s success and prospects. With demand steadily rising, the workshop’s expansion is imminent, promising further employment opportunities and environmental benefits.

“When we delved deeper into exploring alternative uses for our available raw materials, we discovered the potential to manufacture hatches and roof tiles,” she shared. 

Beyond paving slabs, Aral Tenizi’s initiatives extend to conserving and revitalizing fish populations. One was a vital conservation effort to safeguard fish populations on the opposite shore of the Kokaral dam in April 2020. A remarkable over 12,000 carp fish were rescued, with each one carefully transferred to cages for nurturing and growth. This initiative of creating cage farms not only serves as a lifeline for the fish but also yields significant environmental and economic advantages. With partial funding from the Global Environmental Fund, the public association opened an incubation shop for fish production in the village of Akshatau.

As the Aral Sea continues to grapple with its past, the story of Aral Tenizi serves as a poignant reminder of human resilience and ingenuity. Amidst the wreckage of environmental neglect, hope springs eternal, guided by the unwavering dedication of individuals like Ainakul Baimakhanova and the tireless efforts of organizations like Aral Tenizi. Together, they are reclaiming the Aral Sea and forging a brighter future for generations to come.

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