All but 5% of seabed marine life over a wide area of the Kamchatka peninsula coast in eastern Russia appears to have been wiped out – but the cause remains unclear.
The problem was first noted by surfers at the local Khalaktyrsky beach, as sea creatures such as seals and cephalopods started washing up dead on the region’s shores.
Now staff from Kronotsky Nature Reserve have reported back from a diving expedition on 6 October, accompanied by specialists from oceanography institute KamchatNIRO and the Pacific Institute of Geography.
“We took samples, searched for dead animals and performed benthos survey dives,” researcher Ivan Usatov told Kamchatka’s governor, Vladimir Solodov.
While there were few signs of dead marine mammals or birds at the surface, a dive carried out near the mouth of the Nalycheva River had come as a shock.
“When diving we found that at depths from 10-15m there was massive death of benthos life – 95% of seabed-dwelling organisms were found to be dead. Some large fish, shrimps and crabs had survived, but in very small numbers.”
“Water samples were taken directly in the Nalychev River,” said Usatov. “No animals were found there. As for Cape Nalychev, we recorded uncharacteristically dark water in the bottom layers, with brown foam and a very poor environment in terms of animals.”
The divers visited locations covering a 25-mile stretch of coastline.
During a further dive in the area of Starichkov Island and Salvation Bay, seabed-dwellers were again found dead on a “massive scale”, and it seemed likely that the contaminated area was much wider than that surveyed.
“After the dives, I can confirm that there is an environmental disaster,” commented underwater photographer Alexander Korobok, who said that while diving in Salvation Bay he had suffered apparent chemical burns. “The ecosystem has been undermined significantly, and this will have long-term consequences, as everything in Nature is interconnected.