The Soviet Union literally destroyed the Aral Sea. This nation's going to bring it back.

We thought the Aral Sea was dead.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

Located between modern-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea was once one of the world's largest freshwater lakes.


But starting in the 1960s, the Soviet Union began rerouting rivers away from the sea and into giant agricultural projects. Starved of incoming water, the Aral began to evaporate and disappear, leaving behind briny pools and a ghostly, polluted desert.

By 2007, the lake was just one-tenth of its former size. Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it one of the world's worst environmental disasters.

But now the sea — at least a little part of it — is coming back to life.

In 2005, Kazakhstan built a massive dam, Dike Kokaral, around one of the Aral's few remaining pockets of water, a lake that's come to be known as the North Aral Sea.

Now, rather than disappearing into the vast desert, incoming river water has stayed and pooled. Over time, the water level has risen, and freshwater fish that had been driven off by lower waters and rising salt levels returned.

And with the fish came fishermen.

For two weeks, French photographer Didier Bizet traveled to the North Aral Sea to see how the water's return had affected the region's towns and cities. This is what he saw.

In the morning, fishermen from the town of Tastubek drive out to the (now vastly closer) coast.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

The water used to be about 50 miles (80 km) away, according to Al Jazeera. Now the ride's only about 12 miles (20 km).

A lot of people from the village are fishermen, including 23-year-old Omirserik Ibragimov.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

Ibragimov works with his friend Kanat. The fishermen usually work in pairs and use small, rusty boats.

When he's not working, this fisherman stores his boat's engine in his car. Nobody's likely to steal it, but it's too expensive to risk losing. Photo from Didier Bizet.

Outside the North Aral Sea, the vast majority of the former lake is still desert.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

Local guide Serik Dyussenbayev says this particular patch of land used to be under about four meters (about 13 feet) of water. The ground, contaminated with Soviet-era pesticides, is dotted with thousands of sea shells.

Skeletal boats still dot the area.

This ship lies about 30 kilometers from Tastubek. There used to be more, but they were cut up for scrap. Photo from Didier Bizet.

But the fish prove that, at least in the North Aral, the dam is working.

In Tastubek, fish are sorted, washed, and frozen. Photo from Didier Bizet.

Factories in Tastubek and the nearby city of Aralsk sort, clean, and freeze the fish, which are then shipped all over the region, even into Russia and Uzbekistan.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

In Aralsk, fish shops have returned.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

The shops in Aralsk offer catfish, perch, pike perch, bream, snakehead, and three different kinds of carp.

Decorations at the Rara café hint at how close the water used to be to Aralsk — and maybe how close it could be again.

Photo from Didier Bizet.

A second phase of the dam project could raise waters even more, bringing the sea to Aralsk and other former ports again.

The Aral Sea is still one of the world's greatest environmental disasters. We shouldn't ignore that, but recovery is possible.

It's important to understand that the North Aral Sea is only a small part of the former lake and just returning the water won't solve every problem. Any long-lasting recovery could take decades.

Here, things are starting to look good again.

The fishermen head home at the end of the day. Photo from Didier Bizet.

Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
True

Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

Keep Reading Show less

Katie Schieffer is a mom of a 9-year-old who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after spending some time in the ICU. Diabetes is a nuisance of a disease on its own, requiring blood sugar checks and injections of insulin several times a day. It can also be expensive to maintain—especially as the cost of insulin (which is actually quite inexpensive to make) has risen exponentially.

Schieffer shared an emotional video on TikTok after she'd gone to the pharmacy to pick up her son's insulin and was smacked with a bill for $1000. "I couldn't pay for it," she says through tears in the video. "I now have to go in and tell my 9-year-old son I couldn't pay for it."

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
True

Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

Keep Reading Show less
Concept by Susan Silk, Graphic by Annie Reneau

It's hard to know what to say when someone you know is going through a crisis. Whether a person has lost a loved one, received a dire medical diagnosis, or is experiencing some other kind of grief, we're often at a loss for words for how to comfort them.

It gets even trickier when we share in some measure of the person's grief. When your friend finds out they have a terminal illness, that's painful for your friend and their family, but also for you. While it's important to honor that, it's also important to recognize that your grief isn't the same as the person afflicted, nor is it the same as their spouse's or children's or parents' grief. It's totally fine to feel the weight of your own sadness and loss, but there are appropriate and inappropriate places to put that weight. For example, saying to a mutual friend, "I can't handle this, it's too devastating" is very different than saying the same thing directly to your friend who just found out they are dying.

Psychologist Susan Silk has created a helpful concept that makes figuring out what to say and what not to say a bit easier. She refers to it as the Ring Theory, and she and author Barry Goldman described it in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times.

Here's how it works:

Keep Reading Show less

Nearly a year into the deadliest pandemic in a century, the U.S. is still battling not only the virus, but Americans living in denial of reality as well.

Take this video of a group of anti-maskers who stood in front of a Trader Joe's entrance and tried to argue that they had every right to shop there without masks. The woman narrating the video states that they have "a right to commerce" (they don't—there's literally no such right), that Trader Joe's doesn't have the right to require masks (they do—it's their store), that the mandate to wear masks in public places can't be enforced because it's not a real law (it can—), and that they were not there to demonstrate, but just to buy groceries (umm, right).

The manager, to his credit, did what he could to calmly talk with these people while also making it clear that they were not going to enter the store without a mask.

"The point you're trying to make isn't going to be made with us," he said. "It can be made with your government...I am not here to debate policy. I totally respect for you to think anything you want to think...my job, as manager of the store is to enforce the mandate, whether you believe in it or not."


Keep Reading Show less