© WWF Russia

Toxic pollution is likely the source of a massive die-off of marine life along Russia’s Kamchatka coast

5 October 2020

Russia United States Wildlife Communities Barents Sea Beaufort, Bering & Chukchi Seas Ocean

WWF experts in Kamchatka, Russia suspect a highly toxic substance has leaked into the ocean along the coastline causing an extremely high number of mussels and sea urchins to wash up on shore, along with other species of crab, clams and fish. Kamchatka lies just across the Bering Sea from Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The region is considered a globally significant marine hotspot with a rich web of life that supports both nature and people.

WWF-Russia analysed samples of water contamination along the coast of Avacha Bay south of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Along with video and photos of the area, WWF’s experts determined it is highly unlikely that the marine life died from a storm or an oil spill. Based on preliminary testing, Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources has also ruled out an oil spill as a source of the pollution.

Sergey Korostelev, PhD program coordinator of sustainable marine fisheries at WWF-Russia said:

“There are red algae species in the photos. They live at depths from 15 meters and deeper and they are not vulnerable to storms. They can be washed up on the shore only in an extremely rare case and certainly not in such huge quantities. Personally, I have never seen them on the shore. The same can be said about gastropods, the shells of which are usually taken to the shore empty. For instance, we can see a shell with a dead mollusk still inside."

Alexey Knizhnikov, the head of business environmental responsibility at WWF-Russia said:

“Such impact apparently cannot be the result of a storm or water pollution with oil products. There is a great probability of toxic contamination with a high-solubility substance. Judging by the fact that benthic species of plants and animals are carried ashore in large quantities, we draw a preliminary conclusion that not only the surface layer of water is polluted, as it would have been in case of an oil products spill, but the entire body of water. However, we first must receive the results of the water samples and examination of dead sea animals. Only after that it will be possible to judge the origin and the scale of the contamination.”

Margaret Williams, managing director, Arctic Program at WWF-US said:

“WWF has worked for years on collective conservation across the Bering Sea to raise awareness about this critically important area in the Arctic. Places like Kamchatka and Bristol Bay are still considered intact habitat and we need to keep it that way so that marine life like mollusks, salmon, whales and walrus who may be threatened by the climate crisis have a buffer for resilience-building."

WWF is concerned about the lack of systematic prevention and control of industrial activities in the Russian Arctic. It is necessary to develop a system of constant environmental monitoring not only within the Kamchatka region, but also the coordination of responsible agencies both at the federal and local levels. Ideally, all Arctic nations should better coordinate their industrial spill response efforts with each other to ensure effective stewardship of the region.

For more information please contact:

Leanne Clare, Sr. manager communications, WWF Arctic Programme, lclare@wwfcanada.org