Rafat Aimuratov is on a crusade to save Muynak.
The former bustling fisheries hub in western Uzbekistan is ground zero in what is widely acknowledged to be among the worst environmental disasters of the past century. Decades of intensive water-hungry cotton farming sapped the rivers filling the Aral Sea and left Muynak high and dry, dozens of kilometers from the shore.
If the town is to survive, believes Aimuratov, an ecologist, it will need to find new ways forward. That is now his life’s mission.
Aimuratov, who is originally from Nukus, around a 200-kilometer drive to the south, works out of a small laboratory on the approach to Muynak. In it, he studies the plant and animal life of a terrain that can seem at first glance as inhospitable as another planet.
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