Environmental disaster in Kamchatka: who and what poisoned the Pacific Ocean?

Environmental disaster in Kamchatka: who and what poisoned the Pacific Ocean?

Marine animals are dying en masse in Kamchatka, the causes and culprits are still anyone's guess
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The Investigative Committee is investigating the criminal case, which was initiated after pollution was detected in Kamchatka in Avacha Bay near Khalaktyrsky beach, bays «Babya», «Bolshaya Lagernaya» and«Malaya Lagernaya»- within the boundaries of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Yelizovsky municipal district.

There is a case, but so far there are no suspects: no chemicals were found in the water, petroleum product concentrations were reduced to normal values and the Pacific Ocean animals are still dying.

Vladimir Solodov, Governor of the Kamchatka Territory, took the situation under his personal control. He criticized Rosprirodnadzor, Rospotrebnadzor, the Emercom and representatives of scientific institutions for the fact that the samples do not show what has poisoned the water, and called for a change of approach to sampling, if so far the analysis has yielded no results.

About 250 kg of water, sand, bottom sediments, as well as samples of dead shellfish and animals from Khalaktyrsky beach, Avacha Bay, Malaya Bay and Bolshaya Lagernaya Bay were sent to Moscow, where theyare being studied by staff of the Center of Toxicology, Chemistry and Biology. It is expected that the results of these studies will be announced on October 8.

In parallel with Moscow, samples not only from the ocean, but also from the rivers flowing into it, are being studied on Kamchatka. Additional studies are also being conducted at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

«Highly toxic pollution by a highly soluble substance»

In early October surfers who spend a lot of time on the beach in Khalaktyrsky complained of changes in the color, odor and taste of their water. Eight people were diagnosed with first degree corneal burns, 12 more people turned to doctors with complaints of sudden vision problems and dry throat.

In addition, people began to find dead marine animals and plants along the coastline of almost 40 km. Not only shellfish, sea urchins and sea stars, but also seals were found en masse on the beaches.

«The photo shows red algae. They live at greater depths (from 15 meters), and they are not afraid of storms. To appear on the shore they can only in extremely rare cases and certainly not in such quantities. The same can be said about gastropods that are usually washed ashore empty. But here we see a shell with a dead clam inside», - comments Doctor of Biology, Coordinator of Sustainable Marine Fisheries Programme of WWF-Russia SergeyKorostelev.
«Such damage is unlikely to be the result of a storm or water pollution by oil products. It is most likely highly toxic pollution with a highly soluble substance, as benthic organisms were also affected. This is also confirmed by the consequences which were felt by the surfers. Owing to the large quantities of benthic plant and animal species being washed ashore, it is possible to draw the preliminary conclusion that it is not the surface layer of water that is polluted as it would be in the case ofwas not a surface layer, as it would be in case of oil spill, but all of its thickness», - says Alexei Knizhnikov, director of WWF-Russia programme on environmental responsibility of business .

Such fears were confirmed by the expedition of the Kronotsky Reserve staff and specialists from the Kamchatka Fisheries Research Institute and the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography. Scientists dived near the mouth of the Nalychev River, at Cape Nalycheva, near Starichkova Island, in Tikhaya and Spaseniya bays andfound that 95% of plants and animals living on the bottom and in the bottom ground (together they are called the word «benthos») are dead.

«On diving we found that at depths of 10 to 15 metres there was mass mortality of benthos - 95% were dead. Individual large fish, shrimps, crabs are preserved, but in very small numbers», - said researcher of the Kronotsky reserve and the Pacific Institute of Geography Ivan Usatov .

In the long term it can threaten the surviving big species as well, because they have almost no food left.

«If you look at the area of Starichkov Island, Sarannaya Bay, then we see a kind of jelly-like, ground-up condition, but there are birds and marine animals there. The benthos itself has been affected by something, some substance that does not go to the surface, but settles on the bottom», - also says Peter Shpilenok, director of the Kronotsky Reserve.

The fault of nature?

The first results of water samples analyzed by Roshydromet showed a 3.6-fold excess of petroleum products and 2.5-fold excess of phenols. By October 4, the concentration of petroleum products in the upper water layer decreased to normal, and the phenol content exceeded the maximum allowable concentration only 1.4 times. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment published the results of their examination of water samples, according to which no chemical pollution was detected.

Dmitry Kobylkin , head of the ministry, claimed that the reason for the death of marine fauna could have been natural, rather than man-made factors, such as blooms of poisonous microalgae (which is really possible in Kamchatka), seismic activity and volcanic eruptions. However, as stated by the deputy director for scientific work of the National Scientific Center of Marine Biology named after A. Zhirmunsky. A.V. Zhirmunsky Far Eastern Branch of the RAS Tatiana Orlova, this year no mass blooms of highly toxic algae have been observed on the Kamchatka coast. And according to Danila Chebrov, director of the Kamchatka branch of the Unified Geophysical Service, significant earthquakes have not been recorded in Kamchatka since early summer (maximum strength of 3 points). There are no underwater volcanoes in the polluted area and no new ones have been formed recently, Chebrov wrote in an article published on the service website.

Pesticide spill?

In addition to the coast, on October 6 a special commission inspected territories of military ranges near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to rule out the possibility of a toxic chemical leak from them. Nothing was found at the Radyginsky testing ground, except for household waste.

But in the Kozelsky toxic chemicals dump, located near the Nalycheva River, which flows into the ocean near the Khalaktyrsky beach, a number of violations were noted. These violations included breach of geomembrane, which prevents harmful substances from seeping into soil and getting into streams. There have been pesticide spills from here before.

In the Nalycheva River mouth, dark uncharacteristic water in the bottom layers due to suspended solids of decomposed aquatic animals and plants and brown foam were recorded. Organic matter floated on the surface.

Russian Greenpeace activists try to pay special attention to the river Nalychev. However, according to Alexei Kumarkov, acting Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of Kamchatka Territory , what «greenpeace» thinks in space images is a plume of toxic substances escaping into the ocean, is in fact quite natural - the river carries sediment.

Oil products?

WWF-Russia also investigated satellite images, but only detected the dumping of polluted water 4 km offshore from the vessel in Avacha Bay on September 23. It obviously could not have caused catastrophic consequences, but it is still indicative of poor vessel and environmental control in the coastal zone in the area.

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🐙 WWF Russia received a satellite radar image transcription from RiskSat in the Avacha Bay area of Kamchatka. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Thus, on 23.09.20 a discharge of polluted water was detected from the vessel, which left Avacha Bay. ⠀ ⠀ 💬 «Pollution from ships, which we can see on the images, is not capable of causing such catastrophic consequences, which occurred in late September. However, the discharge of polluted water from the vessel only four kilometres away from the shore, obviously demonstrates that the system of shipboard and environmental control in the coastal zone of Avacha Bay is not effective», - stressed Alexei Knizhnikov, WWF Russia's programme manager for environmental business responsibility. ⠀ ❗ Based on all available information, we can assume this is not an oil product, but a highly toxic, transparent substance, highly soluble in water.

WWF-Russia (@wwfrussia) was published .

Analysis of photos, made by ROSCOSMOSS, didn't detected oil pollution near the Nalycheva River.

A mobile mobile laboratory is operated at Khalaktyrsky beach to analyze the air. The results of its studies show that at least the air in this area is all right.

Questions remain unanswered

The search for the source of the contamination has not yet yielded any results. The toxic substance itself in the materials of the criminal case is so far designated as «a pollutant close in consistency to technical oil or other substance that includes oil-containing components».

Situation Center «Me, Us, Pacific Ocean», which aggregates all the new incoming information, has been working in Kamchatka since October 5. It is also published inthe telegram channel of the situation center.

In addition, on the basis of the regional portal «Kamchatka in order» a system of data collection about the state of the environment was launched. In the future, this experience may form the basis of the federal system of daily monitoring of adverse phenomena in the environment. At least, this is what the Governor of the Kamchatka territory Vladimir Solodov suggested.

In the meantime, the prosecutor's inspection of compliance with environmental legislation has started in Kamchatka.

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