Dead Kultuk and Durnev Islands

From the 17th to 20th century, Dead Kultuk has had a three different names: Blue Bay, Tsesarevich Bay and Komsomolets Bay. At the entrance of the 70 km-wide bay are the Durnev Islands. For unknown reasons many online reports make it sound like there’s only one island off of Buzachi’s northern coastline. However, if you whip open a 1970s Soviet map – or Google Earth – you’ll see that there are at least five substantially-sized islands, some of which are more than 6 km wide and most of them are heavily covered in reeds.

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 began to decrease rapidly as the Caspian’s falling sea level made it difficult for them to access the island. By 2018 the seals totally abandoned their Durnev Island hang out. But in late 2020 a Central Asian Institute for Environmental Research expedition recorded a total of 1,000 seals in two rookeries.

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

Super shallow water surrounds all of the islands and across the entire bay, reaching no deeper than 1.5m. Kazakhstan’s Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology mentions that reverse storm surges take place in the bay. This is when strong offshore winds push the sea away from the coastline. When this occurs, large sections of Dead Kultuk’s seabed are exposed. In theory this means you could walk across Dead Kultuk in a strong wind, provided you were actually able to walk in the first place!

The bay and its islands first appeared on maps produced by early-18th century Dutch seaman Carl Van Verden, who was commissioned by Russian Tsar Peter the Great to map his empire, along with other Dutch navigators. Ultimately, it was Van Verden’s cartographic work which motivated Peter the Great to invade the region in 1722, seizing Baku and Derbent.

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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 (
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 (
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 (


  • Dead Kultuk (RUS—Мёртвый Култук): 45.408975169564414, 54.0717222833697
  • Durnev Island (RUS—Острова Дурнева): 45.46404176355082, 52.65274422136984
  • Kaydak Bay (RUS—Залив Кайдак): 44.912424199001855, 53.5524444935632