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Pechora Sea pollution causes diseases of the Atlantic walruses

24 november 2016
On the Walrus Day WWF Russia draws attention to the declining condition of the red-listed species. Scientists record numerous diseases of the Atlantic walrus, possibly caused by poisoning with toxic substances.

In July this year, WWF experts examined Atlantic walruses haul outs on Vaigach and Matveev islands in the Pechora Sea. According to experts, a painful condition of many species can be seen with the naked eye.

«Visual inspection of the animals showed some inflammation of the conjunctiva - says Ivan Mizin, biodiversity coordinator, WWF Russia. - In general, you can often see sick animals on the haul outs - eye inflammation among them is not uncommon, some walruses are blind, almost all are sneezing and have cold. »

According to experts, the diseases may be caused by poisoning by toxic substances. Analysis of fat samples showed higher indicators of pollution with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs).

Scientists say that more research is needed to find out the exact  source of pollutio. However, many agree that the walrus habitat is poisoned by continental runoff of the Pechora River. This is one of the largest rivers in the north of Russia, its annual runoff is 130 km3 and dozens of extractive companies operate in its basin.

Oil extraction and transportation projects that are developing in the Pechora Sea are another factor of marine and air pollution. Thus, «Prirazlomnaya» platform comes flaring of associated gas, which results in air emissions of pollutants and carcinogens.

«Now we need to consolidate efforts for the further study of walruses and focus on the state of their health, - says Margarita Pukhova, project coordinator, WWF Russia. - It is necessary to carry out microbiological and toxicological studies, to attract veterinarians to assess the state of health of animals. However, you need to analyze possible sources of pollution of the Pechora basin - because, ultimately, uncontrolled runoff of pollutants leads to deterioration of the population of the Atlantic walrus. »

Currently, WWF Russia is developing a rating of ecological responsibility of oil companies of the Nenets Autonomous District. This tool will identify subsurface users who pay insufficient attention to environmental policy and implementation of the highest environmental standards. In addition, it will assess the impact of companies on the ecosystem of the Pechora basin and, accordingly, the Pechora Sea.

«In the last three years we notice positive trend in the interaction of environmental community and oil and gas sector, - said Alexey Knizhnikov, Oil and gas environmental policy officer, WWF Russia. - Five companies have developed corporate programs for the study and conservation of marine mammals, attention to the Atlantic walrus is growing from year to year. We hope that companies operating in the Pechora basin, will also take part in the conservation of the unique Arctic species. »

Sick walrus on Matveev Island
© Yulia Bogomolova / WWF Russia
Haulout, Matveev Island, Barents Sea
© Ivan Mizin / WWF Russia
Walruses on Matveev Island, Barents Sea
© Ivan Mizin / WWF Russia
For additional information please contact
Press officer of the Barents project/Barents sea ecoregional program