Further investigations on pollution in Kamchatka | Polarjournal
Specialists from Greenpeace Russia have taken samples in protective suits at various points. According to WWF Russia, mass die-off was not caused by natural causes, but by a highly toxic and very water-soluble substance. Photo: Greenpeace Russia

Since the beginning of September, numerous dead marine animals have washed up on Khalaktyrsky beach on the east coast of Kamchatka, and people complain of health problems after contact with the water. The reasons for the environmental disaster are being debated and have become a point of contention between the authorities and environmental organisations. Now, however, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a kind of FBI, has begun forensic investigations to find out the background and the cause. Greenpeace Russia has also announced further investigations.

As Greenpeace Russia states, an underwater drone is now being used to determine the extent of the damage to the seabed. In addition, further samples are to be taken in order to finally shed light on the mysterious mass mortality of benthic animals along the coast. The environmental organisation still believes that the cause is not of natural origin. They fear that waiting too long for the investigations and samples could falsify any results and thus delay the determination of the causes. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a kind of Russian FBI, has also expanded its investigation in all directions and does not rule out a human cause any more than a natural origin. The Authority has now initiated criminal investigations to this end. Specialists from the committee took their own samples at various points in the area and sent them to Moscow for analysis. Based on this data and the rest, further legal action may be taken, according to a statement from the authority.

The satellite images published by Greenpeace Russia show a yellow-green discoloration of the Nalychev River, which stretches far into the sea and runs along Khalaktyrsky beach. The recordings serve as an indication of a human/technical cause for the investigative authority. At the same time, researchers at an local institute claim that these discolorations are of natural origin. Photo: Greenpeace Russia

So far, the investigations of samples from Avacha Bay, where the regional capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskyi is located, and from various other places along the beach, have all been ended in talk. The reports on the results have also been rather chaotic and have hardly helped to clarify the situation and shed light on the situation. This is also linked to the various institutions, organisations and authorities that were involved in the investigations. Two opinions clearly clash: the official side of the regional authorities, the governor Vladimir Solodov and the Minister of Natural Resources and environment, Dmitry Kobylkin, and the side of the national environmental associations Greenpeace and WWF and the Federal Environment Agency Rosprirodnadzor. While the former side cited natural causes such as algal blooms or volcanism as the cause, the latter side has found evidence of a human/technical cause. In between are various scientific institutions and departments that have examined the samples for each site and have drawn their conclusions from their fiindings.

The footage, created by Kristy Rozenberg and published by The Siberian Times, shows the extent of the mass die-off on the beach. Despite the video footage, two official authorities said they had found no signs of mass die-off. Video: The Siberian Times

In particular, the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, has adhered to natural phenomena as the cause. At first, no elevated levels of pollutants were found in Avacha Bay and other places according to their line of proof. Afterwards, the institute explained that it may have been the leakage of gas hydrates on the seabed due to seismic activity. However, this could be refuted as no activities had been recorded by other measuring stations. Now the head of the institute, Alexei Ozerov, has explained that a massive occurrence of small red algae, a so-called “red tide”, is probably responsible for this. The researchers rely on Greenpeace’s satellite images. Governor Solodov and some high-ranking officials follow the scientists’ argument. But the environmental organization rejects this argument and the result. It refers to the results of the investigations of Rosprirodnadzor, which had detected highly excessive phosphate, iron and especially phenolic levels in water samples. According to Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia, the samples are not yet sufficient to obtain a complete picture of what happened. The results of the tissue and soil samples and other test results are still missing. He also deplores the speed with which the official bodies are investigating.

On October 11, the environmental organisation Greenpeace launched an expedition to the south of Kamchatka to investigate whether a mass die-off could have occurred in this deserted region as well. Results are not yet available. Photo: Dmitry Sharomov Greenpeace Russia

However, the statements of regional authorities such as Kamchathydromet and the director of the Regional Emergency Ministry, who claimed that their staff had not found dead animals or changes in water, are considered particularly serious. A claim that, given the video footage taken on the spot, can only cause a shake of the head on the other side. Greenpeace, on the other hand, has already examined other areas south of Avacha Bay in addition to the samples of rivers and beaches. Soil and water samples and wildlife on the seabed are examined there. Greenpeace fears that the toxic substance may have spread further south and could have led to a mass die-off there as well. However, the results of these studies are not yet available. In the end, all these statements will be analysed in detail by the national Investigative Committee, in order to separate the facts from speculation. It is to be hoped that their investigations will contribute more to the true causes of this disaster.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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