Red tide blamed for mass death of marine life in Kamchatka waters

Published on
November 10, 2020

A recent ecological catastrophe in the waters of Russia's most prominent fishing region is being blamed on a red tide.

The first signs of the disaster appeared in late September, when surfers in Avacha Bay, on the west coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, reported health problems including burning eyes, coughing, fever, and vomiting. Residents reported that local waters changed color and taken on a strange odor. On 29 September, a strong storm washed ashore thousands of dead crabs, octopuses, mussels, ringed seals, and sea urchins. Photos of the marine detritus appeared in local media outlets, causing a public outcry.

Using soil and water samples, a scientific team led by the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) calculated nearly 95 percent of all marine life in the area was killed by a bloom of the Karenia microalgae, though ecological activists said they suspected the die-off was caused by pollution from one of two test sites located nearby, Radygino and Kozelsky, where hazardous materials, including rocket fuel, have been stored. The environmental activist group Greenpeace has called for further investigation, and the Investigative Committee of Russia opened a criminal case into the disaster. 

On 12 October, Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Solodov announced two additional instances of marine die-offs had occured on both sides of the Kamchatka Peninsula, and on 13 October, a third die-off was reported. Samples taken from the sites showed high concentrations of hazardous materials, including oil products at 3.6 to 7.3 times the maximum allowable concentration, phenol at 2.5 to 4.6 times the legal limit, and iron at 6.7 the legal limit.

However, Russian Federal Service for Environmental Control Head Svetlana Radionova said there had been no indication the disaster was caused by any leak of manmade toxic materials, and Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries Deputy Head Vasiliy Sokolov soon backed that opinion, saying the deadly algae bloom was the result of a number of factors combining, including stormy weather and heavy precipitation. Backing those assertions, Mikhail Kirpichnikov, head of the subdepartment of biological engineering at the biology faculty of the Moscow State University, said university scientists had noted abnormally large concentrations of toxic plankton in the spring, before the disaster

While commercial fishing has not been significantly impacted by the disaster, Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Dmitry Kobylkin has proposed a comprehensive scientific program be created to research Kamchatka’s waters to better understand the complex biological processes taking place there. 

Photo courtesy of Dmitry Sharomov/Greenpeace

Contributing Editor reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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