+
Heroes

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.

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

This company makes it easier than ever to enjoy guilt-free fairly traded coffee

Thanks to Lifeboost, good coffee can be good for everyone.

Unsplash

Lifeboost coffee

Americans love coffee. Like, we really, seriously, truly love it. According to one recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee at least occasionally, while 53 percent—about 110 million people—drink it every single day. For some, coffee is an essential part of their morning ritual. For others, it’s something they enjoy when they hit the proverbial wall in the late afternoon. But either way, millions of people use coffee to boost energy, focus, and productivity.


Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

13-year-old ventriloquist sings incredible, sassy version of 'You Don't Own Me' on 'AGT'

Ana-Maria Mărgean only started her hobby in 2020 and is already wowing audiences on "America's Got Talent."

America's Got Talent/Youtube

Ana-Maria Mărgean singing "You Don't Own Me" on "America's Got Talent"

It’s not every day a ventriloquist act is so jaw-dropping that it has to be seen to be believed. But when it does happen, it’s usually on “America’s Got Talent.”

Ana-Maria Mărgean was only 11 years old when she first took to the stage on “Romania’s Got Talent” to show off her ventriloquism skills, an act inspired by videos of fellow ventriloquist and “America’s Got Talent” Season 2 champion Terry Fator.

Using puppets built for her by her parents, the young performer tirelessly spent her quarantine time in 2020 learning how to bring them to life, which led to her receiving a Golden Buzzer and eventually winning the entire series in Romania.

Mărgean is now 13 and a competitor on this season of “America’s Got Talent: All-Stars,” hoping to be crowned the winner and perform her own show in Vegas, just like her hero Fator.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Linda Ronstadt's 1970's ballad is a chart-topping hit once again thanks to 'The Last of Us'

The iconic 70s song "Long, Long Time" was an integral part of an unforgettable episode that fans are calling a masterpiece.

Linda Ronstadt (left), Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (right)

HBO’s emotional third episode of the zombie series “The Last Of Us” became an instant favorite among fans, thanks in no small part to Linda Ronstadt’s late 1970s ballad, “Long, Long Time.”

Using the song as the episode’s title, “Long, Long Time,” moves away from the show’s main plot to instead focus on a heartbreakingly beautiful love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), from its endearing start all the way to its bittersweet end.

The song makes its first appearance during the initial stages of Bill and Frank’s romance as they play the tune on the piano, just before they share their first kiss.

We see their entire lives together play out—one of closeness, devotion, and savoring homegrown strawberries—until they meet their end. The song then plays on the radio, bringing the bottle episode to a poignant close.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

34-year-old man is learning to read on TikTok in series of motivational videos

His reading skills have improved so much that he plans to read 100 books this year.

@oliverspeaks1/TikTok

Oliver James is the biggest star on BookTok.

With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.

For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.

"The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating," he told Good Morning America. "So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class."

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less