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Nearly all marine life killed along the seabed of Kamchatka’s Avacha Bay, scientists report

Following the recent discovery of high pollution levels off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, scientists are reporting that nearly all of the marine life along the seabed (the benthos) of the Avacha Bay has been killed. This was reported to the regional authorities by specialists from the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, the Kamchatka Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (KamchatNIRO), and the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography, who conducted survey dives in the area.

“We took samples, searched for dead animals, and performed dives to survey the benthos. Our results showed that marine mammals and birds are in normal condition. We didn’t find any large dead sea animals [or] birds [washed up] on the shore either. However, upon diving, we found that at depths from 10 to 15 meters [about 33–50 feet] there is massive death of the benthos — 95 percent [of it] is dead. Some large fish, shrimps, and crabs have survived but in very small numbers,” scientist Ivan Ustanov said, as quoted by the government’s press service. 

Earlier, the Kamchatka Krai’s Governor Vladimir Solodov said that the authorities were examining three possible explanations for the ocean pollution: man-made pollution, a natural hazard, or seismic activity.

To further explore these potential causes, specialists will be inspecting the Kozelsky and Radyginsky military test sites, which are located near Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

“The most obvious answer, [to] where the source of the pollution could be is the Kozelsky test site for pesticides. Right now there is a group of specialists there, taking samples, analyzing the integrity of the structures, and taking measurements,” Solodov said.

Over the weekend of October 3–4, surfers at the Avacha Bay’s Khalaktyrsky beach raised the alarm about ocean pollution, when they experienced eye pain, blurred vision, and nausea after coming into contact with the water. They also reported dead fish, shellfish, and seals washed up on the beach. Upon inspecting the area, the regional Environment Ministry found twice the normal level of phenols and a four-fold increase in the amount of oil products in the waters around Khalaktyrsky beach. They also discovered signs of pollution from oil products in three other areas of the Avacha Bay.

Greenpeace called the situation an ecological disaster, but the Kamchatka authorities maintain that there’s no talk of large-scale pollution as of yet. While a source told TASS that the oil products could have leaked from a passing tanker, a Meduza source close to the Kamchatka Krai’s government said that it could be due to the military dumping waste into a local river. The Defense Ministry denies any involvement in the incident.