Dead Kultuk and Durnev Islands

Dead Kultuk, which is an uninhabited chunk of salt marsh almost half as big as the Buzachi Peninsula, begins at the northern end of Kaydak Bay. From the 17th–20th century, Dead Kultuk has had three different names: the Blue Sea, on Emanuel Bowen’s 1747 Map of Persia; Tsesarevich Bay during the Russian Empire; and Komsomolets Bay in Soviet times77. The bay and its islands first appeared on maps produced by early-18th century Dutch navigator Karel van Weerden* and Russian Fedor Ivanovich Soimonov.

At the entrance of the 70-kilometre-wide bay are the Durnev Islands. Many online reports imply there’s only one island off of the Buzachi’s northern coastline. However, if you whip open a 1970s Soviet map – or Google Earth – you’ll see there are at least five substantially sized islands, some of which are more than 6km wide and most of them are heavily covered in reeds.

Close satellite image of Durnev Island.
Map Data: Google, © 2021 CNES / Airbus
Satellite image of Dead Kultuk and Durnev Islands.
Map Data: Google, © 2021 Landsat / Copernicus

According to Kaspika, a Caspian seals conservation agency, Durnev Island, the largest in the chain, had 30,000 seals in 2011. Though, in the following years, the number decreased rapidly as the Caspian’s falling sea level made it difficult for them to access the island. In September 2020, a scientific expedition by the Caspian Seals Research and Rehabilitation Centre found two rookeries on the Durnev Islands totalling 1,000 seals. However, just two years later, NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a natural-colour image of the northern Caspian Sea showing Dead Kultuk and the islands as dried-out. Unless the seals find a spot further west, it’s likely Durnev’s rookeries are no longer in existence.

Note: Karel van Weerden was also known as Carl van Verden.

Photo from space of a very dry looking Dead Kultuk.
Kaydak Bay, bottom left, extending out into Dead Kultuk. The Durnev Islands are in the top left. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov)
Photo from space of Dead Kultuk and Durnev Islands.
A very dry looking Dead Kultuk. Durnev Island(s) is in the bottom left. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov)
Space photo of the north-east Caspian Sea frozen in winter.
The frozen Caspian Sea on the Buzachi Peninsula's north coast. Dead Kultuk is at the top centre. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center (http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov)

Coordinates:

  • Dead Kultuk (Ölı Qūltūq/Мёртвый Култук): 45.4089, 54.0717
  • Durnev Island (Durnev Araldary/Острова Дурнева): 45.4640, 52.6527
  • Kaydak Bay (Qaidaq Şyğanağy/Залив Кайдак): 44.9124, 53.5524

Resources: