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Some questions were answered but the Kamchatka issue is still on the table

30 october 2020
WWF-Russia is going to continue monitoring the situation in Kamchatka and scrutinizing all new publicly available data even after scientists claimed the environmental crisis, which had broken out in September-October off the Kamchatka coast, to be the result of an algal bloom.

What is going on

Kamchatka Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (KamchatNIRO) published quantitative and qualitative phytoplankton samples analysis. The samples had been collected offshore East Kamchatka in the time period from late September to late October. The data shows a high level of microalgae some of which are capable of producing toxins. But the case is not even about the toxic contamination rather than the extreme density of microalgae cells. Some samples show an overall concentration of microalgae species as high as 656 thousand cells per liter. Scientists say that the blooming led to a depletion of the oxygen dissolved in seawater. Oxygen deficiency caused the death of benthic organisms. But what had been the factor causing the algal bloom? This is a question yet to be answered.

“Whatever the causes led to the abnormal algal bloom, global climate change could have enhanced the adverse effect. We have been witnessing a warming up of the North Pacific for several years by now and the global trend of temperature increase in the Global Ocean will remain in the future. It means that there will be less oxygen dissolved in seawater, in some areas even less than in the others. On the other hand, carbon dioxide concentration will increase which will lead to ocean acidification which being unequal across the Global Ocean will probably hit the cold waters of the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk the worst,” said Alexey Kokorin, director of the Climate and Energy Program of WWF-Russia.

What is WWF-Russia about to do

It is still possible to figure out the real causes of the abnormal algal bloom. The research needs to continue and qualified scientific assessment is needed as well. The climate change issued in Kamchatka and in surrounding waters remains essential.

WWF-Russia will continue monitoring the situation, assessing all new research data which can draw light on the causes of the environmental crisis. WWF-Russia keeps updating an interactive map showing the exact places where samples of soil, water, and biomaterials were collected.

“In the last two months, the scientific community and government agencies expressed readiness to share the information. The investigation process was open. The regional administration and the scientists worked in close cooperation leaving no distrust of the experts’ findings. It is important to emphasize that public awareness was the key factor that induced rapid response to the emergency,” said Sergey Rafanov, director of the Kamchatka/Bering Sea Ecoregional Office of WWF-Russia.

What is to be done in the future

The environmental crisis revealed a serious issue that concerns not only the Kamchatka region but the whole country. The lack of a preventive environmental monitoring system is now obvious. And establishing such a system ensuring the cooperation of government agencies of all state levels and environmental organizations should now become the highest priority.

“The environmental disaster off the coast of Kamchatka revealed a whole number of regional environmental issues. We learned that there are toxic chemical landfills right onshore of the Gulf of Avacha and no one holds responsibility for them. We learned that there is no proper sewerage treatment for almost half of the largest city of Kamchatka – Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. There is a number of rusty scuttled vessels in Avacha Bay. The environmental disaster and active public monitoring brought the environmental issues of Kamchatka up to the nationwide level,” said Sergey Korostelev, WWF-Russia’s Sustainable Marine Fisheries Program coordinator.

In close cooperation with the regional administration, scientific and public organizations, WWF-Russia will work on establishing a system of public environmental monitoring, which should ensure the safety of Kamchatka's pristine nature.

Photo in the preview – © Yuri Kislyak / WWF-Russia

Photo in the head – © Julia Kalinicheva / WWF-Russia

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