Is the algae to blame for everything? Why is it too early to close the case of the disaster in Kamchatka

How did it all start?

In mid-October, Russian scientists said that pollution in the Pacific

the coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula led to a massivedeath of marine life. However, local residents sounded the alarm at the end of September. Surfers, who often train in the area of ​​Khalaktyrsky beach, on which the ecological disaster occurred, felt a burning sensation in their eyes from the water. Later, the governor of the Kamchatka Territory, Vladimir Solodov, officially confirmed that surfers had received corneal injuries after swimming in the water.

Caring residents drew the attention of the authorities to the fact that many marine life, including seals, octopuses and sea urchins, died, they were found washed ashore.

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And where is our newly minted governor @vv_solodov??? Does tourism develop or run? How can we live with all this now? The Ocean coast is poisonous yellow, octopuses, hedgehogs, crabs, even mussels fell off! And these are all the inhabitants of the depth! And they are all dead !! Not even the top layer! @greenpeaceru Kamchatka is in trouble and everyone is silent! @_svetlana__radionova_

A post shared by Kristy Fury (@kristy_rozenberg) on ​​Sep 30, 2020 at 2:03 am PDT

This incident, following a major oil spill in Siberia, prompted a widespread investigation.

Later, the interdistrict environmental prosecutor's office forThe Kamchatka Territory was announced a large-scale check on the fact of pollution of the water area of ​​the peninsula. The source of the pollution has not been identified for a long time. It should be noted that Khalaktyrsky beach is not only the main location for professional surfers, but also a popular tourist attraction in Kamchatka.

Greenpeace specialists took water samples andthe results of the audit revealed that the excess of the permissible level of oil products in the region was exceeded four times. Also, the level of phenols in water was 2.5 times higher than normal. Such data were consistent with the state of the ecological disaster in the region.

Greenpeace Russia immediately contactedRosprirodnadzor, Rospotrebnadzor, the Ministry of Defense and the Prosecutor General's Office demanding an immediate investigation of the causes of pollution, an assessment of the scale and urgent elimination of the consequences of major environmental pollution. The problem, which attracted worldwide attention, required an urgent and thorough investigation.

Russian officials began an activeactivities under the direct orders of President Vladimir Putin. Earlier, in June, Putin publicly rebuked officials for being evasive and slow in dealing with the spill of thousands of tons of diesel fuel into the soil and waterways in Arctic Siberia.

Investigation progress

A group of divers from the state naturalReserve discovered a massive death of marine life at a depth of five to 10 meters, said then Ivan Usatov from the Kronotsky reserve, adding that "95 percent of the animals died."

“There are a few large fish, shrimp and crabs left, but very few,” the scientist said at a meeting with the Governor of Kamchatka Krai Vladimir Solodov.

In a statement, WWF Russia argued that the pollutant was not oil, as Greenpeace suspected, but "a highly toxic transparent substance that is highly soluble in water."

Note that Kamchatka, known for its picturesque landscapes and live volcanoes, is teeming with wildlife, including brown bears. The peninsula is sparsely populated with just over 300,000 inhabitants.

Scientists have worked to locate the sourcepollution a few days, researching theories, including the natural effect of microscopic algae. However, the emphasis was mainly on the potential anthropogenic causes of pollution.

Two obvious sources of pollution

Experts took water and soil samples at the sitenear Kozelsk, which has been used since Soviet times to store toxic substances deep in the ground. So, during the investigation, there were concerns that poisonous substances from underground storage facilities could get into the water.

"The most obvious answer, where could be the sourcepollution is the Kozelsk chemical landfill, ”Solodov said after prosecutors, natural resource inspectors and criminal investigators visited the site and checked the soil and water from the nearby river. The site where the chemicals were stored in 1979 has no legal owner today. Well-known, anyway.

Earlier, the governor promised on Instagram to conductInvestigate transparently and fire any official who conceals the extent of the pollution. He said that two military training grounds, Radygino and Kozelsky, would be checked, citing the "yellow tape". which was seen on the surface of a local river.

“Tomorrow early in the morning there will be inspections of two keylandfills that cause widespread concern, ”he said. Some experts have suggested that highly toxic rocket fuel may have leaked into the sea. The second test site, Radygino, is located about 10 kilometers from the sea and was used for exercises in August.

Vladimir Burkanov, biologist specializing inseals, in a commentary published by Novaya Gazeta, suggested that the old depots of rocket fuel stored in Radygino might have rusted and the fuel spilled into streams.

According to Solodov, the inspectors found sectionsbarbed wire and damage to the protective coating on the territory of the unprotected Kozelsky landfill. The site "only according to official data contains about 108 tons of pesticides and toxic chemicals," said Ivan Blokov, director of the Greenpeace Russia campaign, in a statement.

Greenpeace has stated that its team is currentlywhile assessing the situation, I saw patches of "yellowish foam" and murky water in several areas, as well as some pollution drifting towards the volcanoes protected by UNESCO.

The reserve "Volcanoes of Kamchatka" suffered due to environmental disaster

Greenpeace has informed the UNESCO World Heritage Center of this situation.

A significant portion of the World Heritage Site"Volcanoes of Kamchatka" suffered from environmental disaster. The expedition of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve and Greenpeace found many dead underwater animals in the area of ​​Utashud Island in the water area of ​​the South Kamchatka Federal Wildlife Refuge. Mass death of marine life was recorded on the western coast near the village of Ozernovsky.

The waters of the South Kamchatka reserve are richendangered, rare species of animals that provide the biological diversity of the marine region. Several species of cetaceans and seabirds, and Steller's sea eagle and sea otters are vulnerable. The latter are in particular danger, since they feed on sea urchins, the mass death of which can lead to a reduction in the sea otter population, and their number in Kamchatka has been dropping lately.

The catastrophe in Kamchatka did not go unnoticedthe world scientific community and the UNESCO committee. Together with the decision to exclude 15 thousand hectares from the South Kamchatka Natural Park, which is part of the Volcanoes of Kamchatka, a new ecological catastrophe may lead, among other things, to the fact that this unique territory will be included in the World Heritage List in danger activists of Greenpeace Russia.

During the investigation and informationthere was a lot of discommunication, admits the director of the Kronotsky nature reserve in Kamchatka, Peter Shpilenok. The fact that not only the Khalatyr beach was damaged, but also the territory of the reserve was not immediately revealed. The video, which, among others, was shown on Instagram by Yuri Dud and thanks to which many in Russia learned about the problem, was filmed not on Khalaktyrsky beach, but much further north, he notes.

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On vidos - Kamchatka right now. In the photo in a respirator - Anton Morozov @snowave_kamchatka, the same surfer from our issue about Kamchatka, who, together with his friends, turned Khalaktyrsky beach into a world attraction. Here's what he writes: “Just 3 weeks ago, everyone started to experience strange unpleasant symptoms after surfing. Blurred, dry, painful, and filmy eyes. Sore throat, ligaments swollen and sat down. The taste of the ocean is bitter, not salty, completely unusual. After a while, we - about 20 people living in the camp, who ride often - were poisoned. We decided it was an intestinal infection. And no parallels were drawn. It was strange, but the water was kind of clear, we attributed this to possible allergic reactions to plankton or other natural biological processes and waited for the predicted storm. There was hope that all this would pass with him. But that turned out to be the beginning. On Monday, the information went online. The authorities sent specialists to take samples. The water became more and more strange, muddy, thick. Photos and videos came from different ends of the coast, showing mountains of dead inhabitants everywhere. The preliminary results of the samples showed an excess of oil products by 4 times and phenol by 2 times. Yesterday and today, many began hastily to leave the ocean. Symptoms appear even without contact with water. Every hour, new information comes in and recently received satellite images from Greenpeace of the river that flows into the ocean, and which, apparently, brought death to all living things. Pictures in chronology on September 1, 9, 24 show that on the 9th the river was already pouring tons of poison into the ocean. It turns out that almost a month has passed. There was no reaction to prevent the disaster and save the situation. Probably, if the people responsible for this event were more courageous and declared their mistake and began rescue operations, the scale of this could be kept under control. But for a month now poison has been pouring out of the river, which kills everything around. " (The first video is a stain in the ocean, the third is just horror)

A post shared by Yuri Dud (@yurydud) on Oct 2, 2020 at 11:16 pm PDT

The video was shot on October 1 by a pilot of a local airline"Vityaz-Aero" Dmitry Zadirey. He noticed a spot with possible pollution in the area of ​​the Kalygir and Malaya Medvezhka bays during a flight from Petropavlovsk to the Commander Islands, about 80 km north of Khalaktyrsky beach. According to him, then he "did not even know what kind of hysteria was going on about the Khalaktyr beach." “There were spots in the ocean, but it was something gigantic, dirty yellow-brown with yellow foam along the coast. I've been flying in Kamchatka for 30 years and have never seen anything like this, ”he recalls.

October 6 employees of the Kronotsky Nature Reserveinvestigated the coastal water area from Cape Nalychevo to Starichkov Island and came to the conclusion that 90% of benthic organisms in Avacha Bay died. In response, the authorities accused the reserve of incorrect presentation of the facts, since the conclusion was based on just a few dives. Emotional statements are understandable, Shpilenok believes: for the first time in their life, the specialists who faced such a phenomenon were really shocked, and the ocean for them is the meaning of life.

Photo: Greenpeace

How did the investigation of the disaster end?

Environment Minister Kobylkin said in the commentsfor TV, that tests so far have shown only slight increases in iron and phosphate levels, and suggested that the incident might not have been man-made, but caused by storm conditions and microorganisms that alter oxygen levels.

Environmental inspectors and experts fromResearch Center for Fisheries and Oceanography were to continue testing. Prosecutors and investigators announced that they would conduct checks on the subject of the crime, but did not publish any findings.

Cape Lopatka, Pacific Coast (Photo: courtesy of KamchatUGMS)

The Ministry of Emergency Situations said it uses boats and drones to monitor the coastline, but added that "no pollution is visible."

October 23 at the round table on the results ofInvestigation of the death of marine animals in Kamchatka, organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Natural Resources, Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Adrianov said that the cause of the ecological disaster in Kamchatka was the bloom of algae of the genus Karenia, representatives of dinoflagellates.

In the building of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciencesthe Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, the Governor of the Kamchatka Territory, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences and many other specialists who were present, including online, gathered.

In the final conclusion of their study and meeting, the scientists stated that, most likely, the death of aquatic organisms - marine and freshwater organisms - was not caused by human activity.

Speaking at the same meeting, Svetlana Radionova of Rosprirodnadzor said her agency had conducted over 5,000 tests.

Thus, Rosprirodnadzor based onseveral thousand samples excluded the anthropogenic factor of the ecological catastrophe. According to the official statement, fears of a man-made cause were also not confirmed. However, traces of "toxic algae" were found. The experts stressed that, even in the analyzes of surfers who applied for medical help, there are no traces of technogenic impact.

In a separate criminal investigationinvestigators said they have eliminated oil spills and toxic waste as possible causes. They added that previously recorded high levels of phenol and petroleum products were not critical and had been observed in the bay for decades.

Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said,that the situation in Kamchatka is improving. In addition, the day before, he said that "everything that happened there is the life of the ocean, and this is a natural phenomenon," and it is impossible to calculate the damage from pollution at all.

Can the question be considered closed? The Russian branch of Greenpeace is sure not.

What is wrong with the official conclusion on the situation in Kamchatka?

Elena Sakirko, Climate Projects Coordinator andEnergy in Greenpeace, Russia, said it would not rule out any theories for now pending the final results of the organization's independent research.

In an interview with AFP, she revealed that humanfactor could affect the algae. For example, if waste water or phosphates from laundry detergent and fertilizers get into the water. Sakirko also said scientists are concerned that the incident could affect food chains in the region, causing long-term damage to wildlife.

WWF said its experts were also unable to draw any conclusions.

“Unfortunately, the data available today in the public domain does not fully confirm any of the versions of the ecological crisis off the coast of Kamchatka,” the official statement says.

However, Greenpeace activists believe that it is too early to close the case. These are the questions they still have.

Raw discharges?

If the poisoning of benthic organisms is causedalgae, we still do not know what caused their explosive growth. In many regions where red tides occur, the cause is often anthropogenic: untreated sewage, phosphates (fertilizers, domestic and industrial waste). This cannot be simply called “ocean life”. The discharge of untreated effluents into Avachinskaya Bay from year to year is noted in the Roshydromet yearbooks, despite the fact that the Bay is a fishery reservoir of the first category (the strictest standard for water quality is applied there).

According to information published by the authorities of Kamchatka,in the samples from Malaya Lagernaya Bay, significant excess of MPC for benzo (a) pyrene and pesticides (DDT, cypermethrin, cyfluthrin, spiroxamine) is observed. This means that the pesticide version cannot be completely rejected. Further research is needed on their role in what happened.

Changing of the climate?

According to some scientists, this behavioralgae could be caused by rising ocean temperatures. The warming was insignificant (by 1-2 degrees in September 2020), in other regions much more serious temperature anomalies occur and do not cause such an effect. Here, too, more research is needed to clarify the causes and mechanisms of such an influence. It is important to note, however, that temperature anomalies mainly occur as a result of global climate change. Therefore, this also cannot be called unambiguously “ocean life” - it is the result of the impact, first of all, of fossil energy responsible for CO2 emissions as a result of burning coal, oil and gas.

Are there any analysis results for dead animals?

State bodies took the dead for analysismarine mammals. Thus, Irina Yarovaya accompanied to Moscow the tissues of the seals found on the coast selected for research. The results of the study of the internal organs of marine mammals have not yet been published, but they are important to know for understanding the situation.

On October 7, Greenpeace activists investigated twobays: Bolshaya Lagernaya and Shlyupochnaya. They selected the dead mollusks and sea urchins for the study of internal organs for a toxic substance, the dead sea inhabitants were sent to the laboratory.

It is not yet clear why the sea urchins died ifthe cause of the disaster is algal bloom. Sea urchins are not predators or filter feeders, and their death is not typical during "red tides". In the case of an extreme decrease in oxygen, which is noted during the massive development of toxic algae, sea urchins do not die in a short period of time, because they have adaptive mechanisms for experiencing oxygen deficiency. At low temperatures, typical for the waters of Avacha Bay in September, in the complete absence of oxygen, hedgehogs are able to live for about seven days.

But the mass death of marine mammals "red tides", on the contrary, cause. But in Kamchatka, only a few cases were noted. It is not yet clear what this may be related to.

Information appeared today thatthe composition of the expedition of Rosprirodnadzor and other departments to investigate the causes of the emergency, a vessel was selected. This, in our opinion, suggests that the reasons for what happened are still incomprehensible and it is too early to draw conclusions that this is "the life of the ocean and a natural phenomenon."

In addition, while the investigation of the reasons forecological disaster, other environmental problems of the region were revealed: landfills with hazardous waste near the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a dump lake near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, discharges of untreated wastewater. Greenpeace noted that "there is a constant negative environmental impact" and, while the team of activists is in place, they promptly report the identified problems to the governor of Kamchatka Krai.

What's the bottom line?

This year, Russia has suffered from a series of environmental disasters.

Just weeks after the Kamchatka incident, a 35,000 square meter oil spill was reported in the waters of the port city of Nakhodka in the Russian Far East.

The most devastating incident occurred in May, when about 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled from a fuel tank into nearby rivers in the Siberian Arctic.

Even if the disaster in Kamchatka was naturalAs a phenomenon, environmental disasters such as those that occurred in Norilsk and other parts of the Russian Arctic underscore the need for a transition to a new environmental policy. Russia needs to move away from polluting industries that destroy people's lives and nature itself, and turn its attention to renewable energy sources. This should be reflected in public policy. Right now.

Time will tell whether the situation in Kamchatka will worsen. One thing is clear - it is too early to put an end to the investigation of an ecological disaster.

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