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Премия рунета 2017

«Vaygach» National Park

The fragile and vulnerable nature of the Arctic, the harsh conditions of people’s livelihoods, the sacred place for the Nenets people, all of this together is Vaygach Island.

WWF Russia has been working for many years оn Vaygach. There are large rookeries of Atlantic walruses and migration routes of polar bears. Both species are listed in the Red Book of Russia. One of the most massive nesting of waterbirds of the western sector of the Russian Arctic is on Vaygach. The coast of the island is inhabited by mammals such as: gray seals, porpoises, northern bottlenose whales, humpback whales, northern blue whales, northern fin whales, and sei whales. The number of many of these species at the moment is minimal and is characterized by high instability in recent years.

Vaygach Island is unique in its cultural heritage. This is the only «holy island» in the Arctic. Since the earliest times until the 20th century no one lived there. However it has been the Nenets’ place of worship to their deities. The main sanctuary of the Nenets is located on Cape Dyakonova — the head of all deities, Semilikiy Vesako (Old Man), is surrounded by a whole suite of 400 small wooden and 20 stone idols.

With WWF support, a regional sanctuary has been established on the territory of Vaygach in 2007. Now the Foundation is working on the creation of a national park. The status of the specially protected territory of federal significance will allow to strengthen the protection of the island, where previously cases of polar bears poaching have been recorded. This will also allow the development of ecological tourism on the territory of Vaygach. Travelers will be able to get acquainted with the local rich fauna, as well as learn more about the traditional way of life of the Nenets.

The idea of creating a new protected area on the «sacred island» that has been put forward by WWF Russia and the administration of the Nenets Autonomous District (NAO) was supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation.

© WWF Russia
© WWF Russia
© WWF Russia
© WWF Russia
© WWF Russia
© WWF Russia

«We have reached an essential agreement on the creation of a national park on Vaygach Island. Prepared the first version of environmental and economic feasibility study of the national park. Further process of organizing the new protected area, according to our estimates, will take 1.5–2 years», notes WWF Russia Director, Igor Chestin.

«The district pays much attention to the preservation of the Red Data Book species», says the head of NAO, Igor Koshin. «Suffice it to say that it was at our territory that criminal cases have been initiated for the first time in many years for the storage and sale of polar bear skins. And they were not only initiated, but also brought to court. The creation of a national park on our territory can give a stimuli for development — the flow of tourists will increase, new jobs for local residents will appear, and the protection of vulnerable species of animals and plants will be strengthened».

Conservation of the nature of the Arctic is one of the priorities of the World Wildlife Fund. With the support of the Foundation, in total 45 specially protected areas with a total area of more than 44 million hectares have been created in the Russian Arctic.

Vaygach National Park: frequently asked questions

The creation of a national park «Vaygach» will solve the following tasks:

  • conservation of rare species and unique ecosystems, primarily polar bear and Atlantic walrus, listed in the Red Books and the Red List of IUCN. In addition, dozens of species of birds will be preserved that create large nesting colonies here; a migration corridor will be provided for millions of birds during spring and autumn migrations; minimized anthropogenic load on vulnerable model arctic ecosystems that are adversely affected by climate change;
  • preservation of the unique natural, historical and cultural heritage of the territory: monuments of culture and history, sanctuaries of the Nenets people, and also langacheda, found only on Vaygach island, will remain accessible to be visited and studied, but at the same time the regime for their protection will be provided, the animal disturbance factor eliminated and uncontrolled tourism and poaching prevented;
  • study of rare species of flora and fauna, and unique natural objects. Systematic scientific and monitoring research will be established, especially important in the period of changes in the natural conditions associated with climate change. Obtained data will not only contribute to the fundamental science, but it will also allow to increase the effectiveness of measures to conserve rare species in the park. Underwater landscapes and biological diversity in the water area of Vaygach is currently very poorly studied;
  • ensure environmentally and socially responsible tourism development in the Nenets Autonomous District. Vaygach Island is one of the places that are most potentially interesting for tourists on the territory of the district, information about which has already spread widely through the mass media and the Internet;
  • maintenance of traditional nature management of indigenous peoples of the North and preservation of their cultural and religious values (sacred places). The zoning system of the national park takes into account the specifics of the traditional sustainable use of the local population: reindeer herding, hunting, fishing and gathering are allowed in most of the park;
  • promotion of social and economic development of village Varnek on Vaygach Island, as well as the Nenets Autonomous District through the development of ecological tourism. The development of tourism is an opportunity to attract significant funds, create additional jobs and sources of sustainable financing not only in the territory of the island, but also in other settlements of the Nenets Autonomous District through which tourist routes to Vaygach are laid and where the visiting centers of the park will be located.

На острове Вайгач находится один из центров летнего обитания атлантического моржа в России, а также проходят круглогодичные миграционные пути белых медведей между Новой Землей и Карским морем. Оба вида занесены в Красную книгу России. У берегов острова можно встретить различные виды морских млекопитающих, как тюленей, так и китообразных. С Южного острова Новой Земли сюда могут переходить новоземельские олени, принадлежащие к одному из самых малоизученных подвидов дикого северного оленя.
One of the summer habitat centers of Atlantic walruses in Russia, as well as year-round migration routes of polar bears between Novaya Zemlya and the Kara Sea is situated on Vaygach Island. Both species are listed in the Red Book of Russia. Near the coast of the island you can find various species of marine mammals, both seals and cetaceans. Novaya Zemlya deer that belong to one of the most poorly studied subspecies of wild reindeer can come here from the southern island of the Archipelago.

One of the most popular nesting sites and wintering grounds of semiaquatic and waterbirds in the western sector of the Russian Arctic is located on Vaygach.

The island is included in the list of key ornithological territories of Russia, which further confirms its importance for the preservation of biological diversity of the country. Of the 80 species of birds regularly observed on the territory of the island, 11 are included in the Red Books: yellow-billed loon, Bewick’s swan, lesser white-fronted goose, red-breasted goose, common eider, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, bar-tailed godwit, and great snipe. In addition to nesting of rare species, it is necessary to take into account the huge importance of the territory for birds during seasonal migrations, since in spring and autumn period Vaygach Island acts as a bridge and a resting place on the way of many hundreds of thousands of birds.

Vaygach Island includes all typical and rare tundra plant communities of the Arctic. In total 47 species of higher vascular plants, 11 lichen species, 4 species of mosses, and 3 species of algae that are included in the Red Data Books of the Russian Federation and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug have been recorded on the island and in the adjacent water area.

In addition, there are unique forms of permafrost relief on Vaygach Island. First and foremost, they include ridges of 10–12 km in length, 80–130 m in width, which have received the local name «langachada» or «langachedy». Several groups of langachads have been discovered on Vaygach Island with a transverse orientation toward the island. Large hydrolacolithes (pingo) are quite rarely found on Vaygach Island and are also considered unique natural objects. They are large perennial hills with an ice core. The height of hydrolacolithes can reach 70 m, diameter up to 600 m.

Vaygach Island is unique in its cultural heritage and has no analogues in the culture of the Nenets people. This is the only «holy island» of the Nenets in the Arctic, where until the 20th century there was no permanent local population, but which was the place where Nenets worshiped their deities, performed sacrificial rites and bealieved it to be shelter of spirits. The most famous sacred place of the Nenets is located at Cape Dyakonova, where the head of all deities, Semilikiy Vesako (Old Man), is surrounded by a whole suite of 400 small wooden and 20 stone idols. The island also harbors other sites that have sacred significance for the Nenets.

In addition, on Vaygach Island there are archaeological monuments of the exploration of the Arctic by the Pomors, as well as evidences of recent history of our country, when the GULAG branch operated on the territory of the island.

First of all, the island is threatened by unregulated tourist visits, fans of extreme tourism who wish to hunt and fish without respecting any rules and restrictions. A significant flow of such visitors leads to the ruin of eider nests due to collection and selling of bird down, illegal fishing, disturbance of walruses at rookeries, conflicts with polar bears and the subsequent shooting of these animals. It is not by chance that in recent years most of the known cases of polar bears’ poaching took place in Vaygach. There is no protection system in the existing regional sanctuary, and the demand for polar bear skins is high. A few criminal cases have been initiated based on the revealed facts.

Sacred for Nenets people places are visited by all random people that come here, idols can be broken, and sacred places desecrated. The loss of cultural objects and traditions of one of the indigenous small peoples of Russia is very real. There were precedents of export from the territory of the island of sacred objects (SemiliKiy idol). Residents are concerned about the possibility of a repetition of the situation, even up to the destruction of religious objects.

In addition, the current uncontrolled tourism is a serious threat to fragile and vulnerable Arctic ecosystems, which are extremely slow to recover from disturbances. For example, the old tracks from the roads on the island did not overgrow in 50 years or more.

For those rare species whose habitats are confined to the coast are threatened by offshore oil production, capable of causing pollution of low-lying coastal areas flooded during storms, tides and water surges. And with the development of navigation through the Kara Gates Strait, there may be additional concern for Vaygach and its inhabitants.

The status of specially protected territory of federal significance will allow strengthening the protection of the island, where previously cases of polar bear poaching have been recorded. Having the development of a regulated, sensitive to nature tourism as its main goal, the national park promotes conservation of both the most rare and common ecosystems of the island.

The new status will also allow developing ecological tourism on the territory of Vaygach. Travelers will be able to get acquainted with the rich local fauna, as well as learn more about the traditional way of life of the Nenets.

At the same time, all visitors to Vaygach are required to register and report their routes and intentions. Those places where tourists are capable of harming natural or historical and cultural sites are either closed or restricted to visitors.

The Nenets living on the island, as well as their relatives and representatives of the Nenets people from other places will not suffer from the creation of a national park on Vaygach. The regime of such PAs, according to the current legislation, does not imply «closure» of the territory and the introduction of any additional prohibitions on the local population. Visiting the national park is always allowed to anyone.

All possible restrictions will apply only to tourists coming to the island or other categories of people who can harm Vaygach by disturbing animal habitats, plant communities or monuments of culture and history.

Several zones with different modes are assigned in a park. In them, certain types of activities can be banned in the same way as they are now prohibited in the entire territory of the existing wildlife sanctuary.

There will be inspectors on the territory of the park that will prevent poaching and damage to the monuments of history and culture, control the behavior of tourists.

In 2007, a state regional complex natural sanctuary «Vaygach» with an area of 242,778 hectares has been established on the major part of Vaygach Island (established by the Decree of the Administration of the Nenets Autonomous District of May 29, 2007). However, the current status of a «regional sanctuary» does not provide for the existence of an appropriate working staff and financing of environmental and scientific activities, as well as the introduction of the principles of ecological tourism and assistance to the traditional way of life of local residents in the Varnek village.

In fact, at present there is no way to restrain potential poachers or accidental violators of the sanctuary regime, which leads to negative consequences for the whole Vaygach.

In addition to that, in accordance with the current legislation, it is impossible to include the marine part in the boundaries of the regional PAs, which impedes the organization of full protection of rare species and unique landscapes of the island.

Residents of Varnek will be involved in all the works and activities of the national park. The park administration will be created, with whose support it will be easier to solve social and economic issues. Transport connection, communications, and supply of the island with goods and food will be improved.

There will be new jobs in the personnel of the park. There will be new opportunities for selling souvenirs and food products (venison, fish, and other local goods) to tourists.

This fear is groundless. Reindeer herding is part of the traditional nature management, which is supported by national parks. Most of the territory was initially assigned as a zone of traditional nature management, especially for reindeer herding.

Preliminary scheme of territory zoning of a national park «Vaygach»
Preliminary scheme of territory zoning of a national park «Vaygach»

Grazing of deer is allowed in the zone of traditional nature management, recreational and economic, that is, on most of the island. The regime of the protection of cultural heritage zone will be determined in consultation with local population. The area and location of the protected and specially protected areas will also be finalized as a result of discussions with local residents.

Any federal national park creates new jobs. The greatest need is for territorial protection inspectors who are dedicated to preserving their own nature and culture, who control visiting tourists and enforce environmental laws on Vaygach. Also, specialists in engineering (snowmobiles, ATVs,and motor boats), and guides for tourist groups are needed. That is, local residents will be able to receive wages practically for their usual everyday activities.

It is difficult to predict the exact number of jobs at present time, because it depends on the funding allocated for this national park at the time of its creation, but not less than 10 jobs. And this is a significant percentage for the population of Varnek, where few people have permanent employment.

In addition to the fact that the major part of the employable Varnek population will work in a state institution, other new opportunities for Vaygach can be assumed. First of all, an increase in the number of air flights and connections with Naryan-Mar, as the national park will additionally charter helicopters and contribute to the fact that there will be more flights bringing scientific groups and groups of tourists. And, first of all, this will make it possible for the local population to send/receive goods or go to the mainland more often.

National parks actively participate in various children educational events of Russia, so students from Varna will have an additional opportunity to show themselves in contests and olympiads dedicated to nature and history, and to represent the park at various events, which will increase their overall level of achievement.

No. It only means that the importance of Vaygach Island as a part of the NAO territory is emphasizes at the level of the whole of Russia and acquires the status of all-Russian importance.

This idea is supported by all who visited Vaygach with the purpose of studying and preserving it: scientists, travelers, as well as representatives of the Nenets people in various associations and unions of the Nenets Autonomous Okug. Such a unique territory as Vaygach requires state attention, as well as further development and preservation.

The idea of creating a new protected area on the «sacred island», that was put forward by the public and supported by the administration of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug and WWF Russia, was approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation.