Since the beginning of the month, an ecological disaster has hit the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia. Heaps of animal carcasses and destruction of underwater biodiversity have been observed.
Octopus, seals and sea urchins … Tons of marine animal carcasses have been found on the coast of Avatcha Bay since early October, in the Kamtchatka peninsula, located in the far east of Russia, as shown by images published by the Snowave surf school or those disseminated by Greenpeace Russia. At the end of September, surfers in Avatcha Bay began to report unpleasant symptoms: pain in the eyes or even in the throat. Some people on the peninsula have suffered from corneal burns or vomiting on or near water.
At the origin of these mass injuries and deaths: a long, compact sheet of a foamy substance observed along the coast. 40 kilometers long and 30 to 100 meters wide, it is “Gradually moving south”, according to a press release from a biology laboratory at the Federal University of the Far East, published Thursday, October 8. At first glance, the ecological consequences seem catastrophic. “At a depth of 10 to 15 meters, there is a massive death of benthos (organisms living at the bottom of the sea), 95% are dead”, Ivan Usatov, researcher at the Institute of Pacific Geography, said in an official statement.
Russian authorities first raised the possibility that it was a phenomenon “Of natural origin” as the Russian Minister of Ecology, Dmitry Kobylkin, had mentioned last week. Finally, an investigation was opened to “Violation of the rules for the management of substances and waste dangerous for the environment” and of «pollution marine».
Two hypotheses were initially formulated when levels of phenol and petroleum products much higher than those authorized were observed in the water readings. The pollution, write some Russian media, appeared to come from a chemical dump closed since 2010 and where 108 tons of pesticides are stored, according to Greenpeace. Others have speculated that an extremely toxic rocket fuel, heptyl, may have leaked from a military installation, a possibility ruled out Thursday by the region’s governor.
On Monday, scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences rejected the industrial origin of the phenomenon. “I am sure that we are facing a natural phenomenon on a fairly large scale, but not uncommon for Kamchatka”, Academy Vice-President Andrey Adrianov told a press conference. The poisoning of animals is linked to the proliferation of toxic microalgae “Of the Gymnodinium type”, said the researcher.
Series of disasters
The doubts remain, however. If the presence of these microalgae is apparently confirmed, the origin of their proliferation, as well as the presence of other substances at levels much higher than those authorized, has not been identified. “Some extremely important results are missing, such as laboratory tests on tissues and organs of dead animals. The collected materials have not been tested for pesticides ”, says Vladimir Chouprov, project director of Greenpeace Russia. The NGO present in Petropavlovsk-Kamtchatsky, located in Avacha Bay, launched its own research using an underwater drone to examine the ocean floor. “We are still not sure that this is a phenomenon of natural origin and are continuing our research”, completes Ira Kozlovskikh, press officer of the NGO.
While ecological issues are not at the heart of the authorities’ concerns, this disaster is part of a series of recent disasters, such as the leak of 21,000 tonnes of fuel in the Arctic, caused by a collapsed tank. of a thermal power station of the Norilsk Nickel group last May.