Lake Sarykamysh, also known as Sarygamysh or Sary-Kamysh, is a large lake located in the north of the Karakum Desert bout midway between the Caspian Sea and the disappearing Aral Sea. Most of the lake (about three quarters) is located in Turkmenistan, the northern part (a quarter) is in Uzbekistan. It is a part of the water system of the Amu Darya River, which is practically the only source of water for it.
According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia the name of the lake comes from the Turkic words “sarı” (yellow) and kamish (depression). This refers to the yellow color of the silt and salt in the old dry basin during periods when the lake dried up. Modern Turkmen authorities wish to “Turkmenize” this name, claiming that it is the Turkmen name “sarykamysh” (“yellow reed”).
Throughout its history, Lake Sarykamysh has repeatedly appeared and disappeared. Water entered the lake through two branches of the Amu Darya – Kunya-Darya and Daudan, and the dry Uzboy River, which flowed into the Caspian Sea, served as a drain. By the 19th century, the lake basin was filled with water only during spring floods, but this did not happen every year. The last time the waters of the Amu Darya directly entered the basin in 1878.
Since the early 1960s, Lake Sarykamysh has been filled with collector-drainage waters, fed through the Daryalyk collector, using water from agricultural lands on the left bank of the Amu Darya. Since then, the lake has existed constantly and does not dry up in the summer. But on Soviet maps it was marked for a long time as disappeared or drying up. The filling of the Sarykamysh Lake basin coincided with the gradual disappearance of the Aral Sea.
The ichthyofauna of Lake Sarykamysh is formed by species that penetrated from the Amu Darya and the reservoirs of the subsidiary drainage network. For the most part, the lake is inhabited by native species of the Aral-Amu Darya basin and immigrant species, both spontaneously penetrating and purposefully transferred to the reservoir for the purpose of fish farming in 1969–1974.
In 1980th 27 species lived here, and in 2018 there were already 32 of them, of which about 35% were immigrant species. In total, during the existence of the lake, 36 species of various representatives of the ichthyofauna were recorded in it, including carp, catfish and snakeheads. At the end of 2020, two tons of juvenile carp, silver carp and grass carp were released into Lake Sarykamysh in the Dashoguz velayat of Turkmenistan.
Lake Sarykamysh is also a real paradise for birds, primarily waterfowl. It is inhabited by such bird species as white swans, pink and curly pelicans, cormorants.