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The dirty business of Kamchatka
Scientists claim man-made cause of ocean pollution, but officials do not abandon the version of natural origin of ocean pollution
"Environmental disaster" - scientists say. “There are no poisons,” officials say. Footage of dead marine animals and a polluted river flowing into the ocean in Kamchatka has been around the world and caused a great resonance. Society has split - some believe that the ocean needs to be urgently saved, others that the scale of the disaster is too exaggerated. As events unfold, it becomes clear that the cause of what happened is technogenic. Scientists and specialists from departments say this, however, officials ask not to rush things and still do not abandon the version of the natural origin of ocean pollution.
Kamchatka surfers were the first to sound the alarm. They felt a sore throat, "sand" and a burning sensation in their eyes back in September, but they did not even think that the reason was in the ocean until they saw dead fish and marine life on Khalaktyr Beach. In early October, the water became viscous and bitter. Symptoms of poisoning began, even among those who simply walked near the ocean. They sounded the bells. Posts with calls for maximum publicity of the situation on social networks were accompanied by photographs and videos of sea urchins, seaweed, dead octopus and a small seal sealed ashore.
Speaking live on the Situation Center in the regional government, the founder of the Snowave Surf School, Anton Morozov, reported about 200 victims of pollution.
“Ten people have nausea, fever, only in our camp. It's the same in the neighboring camps. More than 200 of us have suffered, ”Morozov said.
Surfers were examined by doctors and found corneal burns. Now the athletes are asking to be examined for them. The Ministry of Emergency Situations has deployed a mobile station for air sampling on Khalaktyrsky beach. True, now it does not record the excess of the MPC for any of the indicators.
Was there contamination?
After a wide public resonance in social networks, the authorities and supervisory authorities actively joined the problem. At the same time, local residents and users of social networks accused officials of inaction and hiding the problem. After that, the responsible departments went to the place, but they did not find anything terrible.
The first results of the samples taken from Kamchathydromet revealed pollution 2,5 times for phenols and 3,6 times for oil products. Samples were sent for analysis to Moscow.
Local authorities have promised to punish officials if they conceal the problem, to establish the causes of the pollution, and to bring the full results of the investigation to the public. At the same time, statements about the improvement of the situation were made on Monday. The Governor of Kamchatka, Vladimir Solodov, said that the water is of normal color, and there are no stains or dirt.
“I can state that today the situation in Avacha Bay is favorable, people are resting on the seashore, and in general the situation is returning to normal, thanks to the unique ability of the ocean to heal itself,” the governor said.
The local Rosprirodnadzor did not find any excess of the standards in 80 samples taken from the water area and from the coast of the Khalaktyrsky beach. Another 19 samples were sent to Moscow and Vladivostok, and the same samples were divided among the laboratories of Rosprirodnadzor and scientific institutes. Results in the coming days.
The employees of Kamchathydromet did not see any dead animals, no discarded fish on the sea coast. A visual survey of the coastal strip showed nothing unusual and non-standard. The rescuers did not see the death of aquatic organisms.
“The facts about different emissions of animals there, some kind of pollution are not confirmed. No such facts were revealed by the forces of rescuers and equipment. There are no stains on the water, no foreign smell, "said Igor Mikhno, head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry's Main Directorate for the Kamchatka Territory.
There are no footprints on the shore, but the water area is another matter. Employees of the Kronotsky Reserve, when immersed in the water at Cape Nalychev, found the strongest pollution. Due to the almost zero visibility, the diver was unable to reach the bottom.
“All the water was a" soup "of ground-up remains of bottom dwellers, it was very dark. Samples and samples were taken, but the diver could not get to the bottom, ”said Daria Panicheva, head of the scientific department of the Kronotsky reserve.
In Avacha Bay, experts found dead sea urchins and stars, mollusks, tubular worms. Almost all the bottom benthos was dead.
Disputes are still going on not only about whether there was the very fact of pollution, and about its scale, but also about the reasons for what happened. While samples are being analyzed in the laboratories of Moscow, Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the local government announced three versions of what happened: man-made pollution, the consequence of a storm and even seismic activity on the peninsula.
Now the version about seismic activity and the influence of volcanoes is more perceived as an attempt to silence the root cause. Employees of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences ruled out seismic or volcanic activity in Kamchatka as the cause of chemical pollution of the peninsula's water area. On the Instagram page, the institution published the words of the director of the institute, Alexei Ozerov, who notes that the cause of the incident cannot be the consequences of seismic or volcanic activity. This is not a natural phenomenon, but rather a technogenic one.
Ivan Kulakov, head of the seismic tomography laboratory at the Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics, also noted that the Avachinsky and Koryaksky volcanoes most likely did not cause toxic substances to enter the water off the Kamchatka coast.
“Volcanoes contain only microscopic amounts of phenols and oil products. In addition, even if we assume such a unique phenomenon, it would inevitably be accompanied by other signs of the volcano's activation, first of all, increased fumarolic and seismic activity, "Kulakov notes.
Two active volcanoes - Avachinsky and Koryaksky, which could be associated with this environmental disaster, were last active at the beginning of the year, and are now in a calm state.
Danila Chebrov, director of the Kamchatka branch of the Federal Research Center "United Geophysical Service of the Russian Academy of Sciences", Ph.D. in physics and mathematics, does not support the version about the seismic or volcanic nature of the disaster on Khalaktyrsky beach.
“Recently in Kamchatka, in Avacha Bay in particular, there were no outstanding seismicity indicators, only weak seismic events. They took place at a depth of several tens of kilometers. The main seismicity in Kamchatka is concentrated in the oceanic plate, which plunges obliquely under the peninsula. Thus, the influence of seismicity on the emissions of harmful substances can be completely excluded, ”the scientist explained.
The expert also disagrees with the versions that the eruption of an underwater volcano and the release of gas hydrates could have been the cause. According to him, there are no known underwater volcanoes in Avacha Bay, and new ones have not formed.
“The nearest submarine volcanoes from the south are the area of Atlasov Island (Northern Kuriles). Due to the current, the underwater volcanoes of the Northern Kuriles could only affect the fauna of the islands, at most - on the southern part of the western coast of Kamchatka near Cape Lopatka. Gas hydrates were not discarded. Accumulation of gas hydrates is a permafrost area and the Arctic Ocean. In Kamchatka, such phenomena have not been observed before, "Chebrov believes.
In social networks, the version about the involvement of the military in the pollution was actively discussed. On Saturday, the Ministry of Defense denied this information, stating that "there was no transportation of large consignments of oil products by ships and vessels of the Russian Navy, including those chartered in the interests of the Russian Ministry of Defense to supply the Pacific Fleet in this area." Also, the military said that they do not use petroleum products and substances containing phenol and its compounds.
“There have been no exercises using heavy military equipment at the Radygino training ground since June. During the same period, in the water area of Avacha Bay, adjacent to the Khalaktyr Beach, no combat training activities involving ships and vessels of the Pacific Fleet were carried out, ”the message said.
At the same time, in early August, news agencies published a message that the military personnel of the radiation, chemical and biological (RCB) protection unit in Kamchatka received specialized machines for setting aerosol curtains TDA-3. It was reported that these machines are capable of disinfecting areas of terrain, buildings and structures, decontamination and degassing of the external surfaces of equipment by spraying solutions for special treatment.
It was also clarified that at the Radygino training ground it was planned to conduct a special tactical training for the military personnel of the RCB protection unit with the use of new equipment. This landfill has already been checked by specialists from different departments. They did not see a terrible picture, but they noted violations.
“It is impossible to store chemical waste like that,” said Ruslan Khvostov, founder and head of the Green Alternative political party.
According to Vladimir Rakov, Chief Researcher of the Laboratory of Marine Ecotoxicology of the Ilyichev Pacific Oceanological Institute, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Rakov, the version that poisonous substances could get into the sea from a military training ground located in the area where the remnants of rocket fuel, containing, in particular, heptyl, were preserved, takes place.
“22 years ago, an accident occurred at this training ground, which affected a fairly large area. But data on the environmental damage caused then is difficult to find. It is possible to speak about the causes of this local ecological disaster only after examining the samples, "Rakov said.
He also does not believe that the pollution could have been caused by toxic microalgae blooms, as some residents have suggested. This phenomenon is not typical for the cold waters of Kamchatka at this time of the year.
Scientists believe that it is possible to talk about the causes of pollution only after the samples have been studied. WWF Russia notes that there was a contamination with a highly toxic substance. They note that such damage is unlikely to be the result of a storm or pollution of the water area with oil products.
“This is most likely a highly toxic contamination with a substance with a high solubility, since benthic organisms were also affected. This is evidenced by the consequences that surfers have felt, ”said Alexei Knizhnikov, director of the WWF Russia environmental responsibility program.
The organization also notes that bottom species of animals and plants are carried ashore in large quantities. This suggests that the pollution has passed through the entire water column.
“We can assume that this is a highly toxic transparent substance, highly soluble in water,” said Yuri Kislyak, spokesman for the Kamchatka branch of WWF Russia.
He noted that the conclusion was made based on the results of repeated surveys of the coast.
“Two days ago, our employee went to Malaya Lagernaya and Srednyaya Lagernaya bays, these are small backwaters inside Avacha bay densely populated with seaweed and hedgehogs. Arriving at the site, he took photographs and videos of a large number of sea urchins washed ashore. He has a PhD in Biology and has been involved with the sea throughout his career. He concluded that this was clearly not a natural release, not the result of a storm, because in his entire long career he had not seen such a thing. Based on these photos and videos, we draw the appropriate conclusions, ”said the press secretary of the Kamchatka branch of WWF.
According to him, a highly toxic substance is indicated by the fact that there are emissions of bottom marine organisms on the coast.
“On the shore, sea urchins and algae were found, which live in the depths of the sea, they are not so easily thrown ashore. They had to die first to be washed ashore. Hedgehogs, despite their appearance, are quite mobile and when a storm approaches, they go to a depth. They are emitted during a storm, but they are rare, ”noted Yuri Kislyak.
According to him, today specialists went to the same bays and made sure that emissions are present. Scientists believe that this has nothing to do with natural processes - the substance passed through the water column and reached the bottom.
In turn, the press service of WWF-Russia in a press release notes that specialists of the RiskSat company, ordered by the organization, analyzed space images from the Sentinel-2 satellite for June-September of this year and compared them with images in the same period of previous years. The images show several film impurities. So, on September 23, a discharge of contaminated waters from a ship that left Avacha Bay was recorded. The length of the narrow oil slick is 11 km, the distance from the coast is XNUMX km.
“Pollution from ships (apparently, this is illegal discharge of bilge water), which we see in the pictures, is not capable of causing such catastrophic consequences as it happened at the end of September. But the discharge of contaminated water from a ship just four kilometers from the coast, obviously, indicates that the system for monitoring the ship's and environmental situation in the coastal zone of Avacha Bay is ineffective, ”said Alexei Knizhnikov, head of WWF Russia’s environmental responsibility program.
The largest environmental organizations have joined the situation with the pollution of the water area in Kamchatka - in addition to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Russia, also Greenpeace. The latter called the situation an ecological catastrophe and appealed to Rosprirodnadzor, Rospotrebnadzor, the Ministry of Defense and the Prosecutor General's Office with a demand to investigate the causes of pollution, assess the scale and urgently eliminate the consequences.
On Monday, several groups of Greenpeace specialists on a boat surveyed the bays of Avacha Bay, they recorded the main pollution in Vilyuchinskaya Bay. This is a yellow-brown foamy spot that moves towards the Kamchatka Volcanoes reserve.
As Greenpeace was earlier and louder than others about the problem, some began to suspect the organization of bias and a decision to escalate the situation in order to discourage demand for Kamchatka seafood, including from foreigners. However, the fishermen said that the incident did not affect the fishing and demand - there are a lot of fish and buyers.
The governor also hinted at the excessive activity of Greenpeace. Then, Acting Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Kamchatka Territory, Aleksey Kumarkov, said that the plume in the Nalycheva River in the satellite image, which the environmental organization brought, is visible due to sedimentary and other rocks that the mountain river carries with it, there is no poison in it. They say that almost every river has such plumes. However, on Tuesday experts from KamchatNIRO announced the oddities of the water in the river. They found dense deposits and color changes in the water.
Greenpeace itself does not give up. The organization's website has already published several pictures of the coast in the area of Khalaktyrsky beach and neighboring bays, taken from space. Activists assure that on September 1-3 the territory looked normal, and on September 8 it was clear that muddy stains had formed near the place where the Nalycheva River flows into the bay. It was then that the first signs of poisoning appeared in surfers. After that, the divorces were even more cloudy.
Local surfers are conducting an independent investigation. They collected water samples and sent them for research, and survey the water area by helicopter.
The situation in Kamchatka received a wide response. The public, experts are discussing how this situation will affect different spheres of life in the region. According to Natalia Maksimenko, head of the regional agency for tourism and external relations, it is premature to draw any conclusions about how this situation will affect the development of tourism in Kamchatka as a whole, since first it is necessary to understand the reasons for what happened. After the incident, the regional authorities propose to strengthen the monitoring system and organize it at the federal level.
“The situation testifies to the fact that at the level of the Kamchatka Territory, at the level of Russia, there is no developed system for monitoring adverse environmental consequences. I want to thank all those who are not indifferent, but at the same time I will appeal to the federal authorities with a proposal to create a unified system of constant monitoring of possible adverse events in the environment, ”said Vladimir Solodov.
Scientist Vladimir Rakov believes that it will take years to restore the marine ecosystem damaged by pollution.
“The ecosystem will recover slowly. Different marine organisms take different times. For example, plankton needs several days - the deceased will carry away, and the current will bring a new one. Sea urchins and stars live for four to eight years, some species of molluscs up to 30 years. According to preliminary estimates, if there is no new pollution, the ecosystem can recover in ten years, ”the scientist explained.
Speaking about the possible damage to fish stocks, the expert noted that, most likely, they did not suffer significant damage.
“Salmon, navaga, sardines, as a rule, feeling pollution, can swim away, leave the dangerous area. Marine animals are much more sensitive than land animals. Mostly those who could not swim away quickly died - mollusks, hedgehogs, ”said Vladimir Rakov.
Obviously, the results of inspections initiated by supervisory and investigative bodies will follow. They are carried out by the prosecutor's office and the investigation department, the results are monitored in the central offices. The situation is also being monitored in federal ministries and departments. So far, the North-Eastern Territorial Administration of Rosrybolovstvo has initiated an administrative case under the article "Violation of the special regime for carrying out economic and other activities on the coastal protection zone of a water body, water protection zone of a water body."