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Toxic Spill Kills 95% Of Marine Life In Russian Region Close To Alaska

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6 Oct: Aerial view of the site where an ecological disaster occurred in the Kamchatka Peninsula, North-East of Russia. Image taken by drone for Greenpeace.

6 Oct: Aerial view of the site where an ecological disaster occurred in the Kamchatka Peninsula, … [+] North-East of Russia. Image taken by drone for Greenpeace.

Greenpeace / Matvey Paramoshin

A toxic spill is suspected for causing the deaths of thousands of sea creatures along a 25 mile stretch of coast in Russia’s Far East next to a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.

Kamchatka UNESCO World Heritage Site on the coast of the Bering Sea, across from Alaska

Kamchatka UNESCO World Heritage Site on the coast of the Bering Sea, across from Alaska

UNESCO

The cause of the spill is being investigated and a joint WWF-Greenpeace team arrived last week to conduct an investigation into the leak in the Kamchatka region of Eastern Russia, just across the Bering Sea from Alaska, using underwater drone cameras and advanced sampling techniques.

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The region is known for its vibrant marine life, where whales and seals are often seen, and is a popular spot for surfers.

Greenpeace experts take samples from Kamchatka's river in polluted area

8 Oct 2020: A Greenpeace expert examines a river flowing into the Pacific Ocean through the … [+] Khalaktyrsky beach. The ecologists have taken samples of dead shellfish found at the bottom as well as water and soil for further analysis in Moscow.

Yelena Vereshchaka/TASS

It was actually when a group of surfers first started experiencing eye problems and symptoms of food poisoning that the alarm was first raised.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, a federal law enforcement agency similar to the FBI, said dead marine life had been washing up on the Kamchatka’s shore since September 1, and seawater had been found to contain oil components including phenol.

Russian Minister initially downplayed incident

Fuel spill clean-up in Norilsk, Russia

16 Jun: Russia’s Environment Minister Dmitry Kobylkin is seen at the site of clean-up works after a … [+] diesel fuel spill at Norilsk’s Combined Heat and Power Plant No 3.

Kirill Kukhmar/TASS

The Russian Minister of Environment. Dmitry Kobylkin, initially downplayed the incident.

“For us, there is no scale of disaster. No one has died, no one was hurt,” he said on October 5. However, it was only when scientists explored the seabed that the scale of the devastation became clear.

“On the shore, we did not find any large dead sea animals or birds,” scientist Ivan Usatov said according to a report posted on the governor’s official website. “However, when diving, we found that there is a mass death of benthos [bottom-dwelling organisms] at depths from 10 to 15 meters — 95% are dead. Some large fish, shrimps and crabs have survived, but in very small numbers.”

Kamchatka is known for its vibrant and diverse marine and wildlife

Kamchatka is known for its vibrant and diverse marine and wildlife

Greenpeace / Dmitry Sharomov

By October 7, the Russian Minster of Environment’s tone had changed and he vowed that those responsible for the pollution would be punished.

“There cannot be any compromises here, as with the situation in Norilsk,” he said, “Citizens’ environmental wellbeing and the preservation of ecosystems come first.”

The massive Russian Arctic oil spill in May

Fuel spill cleanup in Norilsk, Russia

NORILSK, RUSSIA – JUNE 6, 2020: A containment boom deployed during a major cleanup operation … [+] following the May 29 fuel spill at combined heat and power plant No 3, at least 20,000t of diesel fuel estimated to have spilled in total.

Kirill Kukhmar/TASS

President Putin holds meeting on diesel fuel spill clean-up in Krasnoyarsk Territory

19 Jun: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin holds a video conference meeting on the Arctic Oil Spill … [+] clean-up.

Alexei Nikolsky/TASS

Norilsk is the location of a massive oil spill that occurred in May in Russia where 21,000 tons of diesel oil was leaked into rivers flowing into the Arctic, forcing President Putin to declare a state of environmental emergency.

The power plant manager at the center of the leak was detained and President Putin expressed anger when he heard officials only discovered the leak days later after seeing reports on social media.

Fuel spill clean-up in Norilsk, Russia

NORILSK, KRASNOYARSK TERRITORY, RUSSIA – JUNE 16, 2020: Helicopters land in a camp for workers who … [+] carry out clean-up works at the site of a diesel fuel spill at Norilsk’s Combined Heat and Power Plant No 3.

Kirill Kukhmar/TASS

Power station foreman arrested in Norilsk fuel spill case

Jun 4: An investigator interrogates Vyacheslav Starostin (L), foreman of a boiler and turbine … [+] workshop at central combined heat and power plant No 3, operated by Nornickel subsidiary NTEC (Norilsk Taimyr Energy Company), arrested in probe

Russian Investigative Committee/

The geography and location of the spill makes the oil particularly difficult to clean up. The risk of oil spills in the Arctic has been a risk highlighted by environmental campaigners for years, and international shipping regulators have been slow to react to implement stricter rules for shipping.

Greenpeace has compared the spill to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

The former deputy head of Russia’s environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, Oleg Mitvol, said there had “never been such an accident in the Arctic zone,” and that the clean-up could cost $1.5 billion, and take between five and 10 years.

Yet a month later, another 45 tons of aviation fuel was then leaked into the Arctic in July.

‘Ecological catastrophe’

Environental Disaster in Kamchatka where thousands of sea creatures were discovered dead on the ocean floor, despite relatively low numbers appearing on shore

Environental Disaster in Kamchatka where thousands of sea creatures were discovered dead on the … [+] ocean floor, despite relatively low numbers appearing on shore

Greenpeace / Vasiliy Yablokov

With the latest Kamchatka oil spill, it was only when independent researchers arrived and used underwater cameras, that the true scale of the devastation could be seen.

Marine life such as seals, octopi,  starfish and sea urchins were found dead on the beach that was popular with Russia’s professional surfing community.

20 surfers had noticed an unusual color and smell in the water, before experiencing health symptoms. It shows the importance of engaging local surfing and fishing communities who most likely have the deepest knowledge of a particular region and are often the first witnesses of any anomalies.

9 Oct: biological samples taken and labelled during Joint Expedition of Greenpeace Russia & Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka

9 Oct: biological samples taken and labelled during Joint Expedition of Greenpeace Russia & … [+] Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka

Greenpeace / Dmitry Sharomov

Initial probes showed had shown that levels of phenol, a substance often used as antiseptic or disinfectant, were 2.5 times higher than normal, and petroleum levels 3.6 times higher. Local media outlets have speculated about a possible oil tanker leak or military drills gone wrong.

However, investigations are ongoing into the root causes of this incident.

Greenpeace investigated the nearby Military Training Ground Radygino in Kamchatka

7 Oct: Greenpeace investigated the nearby Military Training Ground Radygino in Kamchatka

Greenpeace / Oganes Targulyan

Greenpeace Russia’s climate project manager, Vasily Yablokov, said: “Pollution of the water area near Khalaktyrsky beach has already led to the death of marine animals and the poisoning of people. The unique nature of Kamchatka, the Unesco World Natural Heritage, is under threat. It is necessary to contain and prevent further pollution of the coastline as soon as possible.”

Importance of a robust scientific baseline

Greenpeace Russia is conducting an underwater examination in Kamchatka to reveal the scale of the environmental disaster in the Pacific ocean. On the 13th of October Greenpeace, WWF and KamchatNIRO campaigners, together with the Russian Investigative Committee, began to examine the bottom of Avacha Bay using an underwater drone

13 Oct: Greenpeace Russia conducting underwater examination in Kamchatka to reveal the scale of the … [+] environmental disaster in the Pacific ocean. Greenpeace, WWF and KamchatNIRO campaigners, Russian Investigative Committee examine Avacha Bay.

Greenpeace / Irina Kozlovskik

Collecting biological samples during Joint Expedition of Greenpeace Russia & Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka

Collecting biological samples during Joint Expedition of Greenpeace Russia & Kronotsky Nature … [+] Reserve in Kamchatka

Greenpeace / Dmitry Sharomov

The use of modern technologies by Greenpeace and WWF to understand the true nature of the oil spill by using underwater drones has marked out this response from the one in Mauritius.

The Japan-led oil spill response in Mauritius has been heavily criticized for politicizing science to downplay the true impact of the Japanese-vessel, the Wakashio, grounding and oil spill.

MAURITIUS-JAPAN-ENVIRONMENT-DISASTER-OIL

Members of Japanese Disaster Relief Team work in Mauritius August 16, 2020. Their role has been … [+] heavily criticized locally for undermining sampling efforts.

AFP via Getty Images

Japanese scientists have been accused of using outdated techniques that were not suitable or scalable across the important coral lagoons of Mauritius.

Independent scientists and experts were deliberately sidelined by the Japanese-led efforts in Mauritius, raised serious concerns about objectivity in the oil spill response.

A summer of shipping disasters

TOPSHOT-MAURITIUS-ENVIRONMENT-DISASTER-OIL

16 Aug: the MV Wakashio bulk carrier that had run aground and broke into two parts near Blue Bay … [+] Marine Park, Mauritius.

AFP via Getty Images

If the source of the leak in Kamchatka was found to be from a passing ship, this would be the latest in a string of polluting events caused by weak and poorly written UN laws governing shipping and pollution.

Venezuela experienced a large oil spill over the summer in an important marine nature reserve, Morrocoy National Park, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius was impacted with a major oil spill this summer into a network of important nature reserves for endangered species, a catastrophe was averted off the coast of Sri Lanka when the engine room of a massive oil tanker exploded last month with a cargo of 2 million barrels of oil, 150 million people in countries around the Red Sea are still watching as a large oil tanker with 1 million barrels of oil starts to disintegrate off the coast of Yemen.

USA - Attorneys Appeal Exxon Valdez $5 Billion Judgement

David Oesting, lawyer in the Exxon Valdez court case, holds a July 2005 sediment sample from Sleepy … [+] Bay Alaska still covered in oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, after Exxon Valdez appealed to a court to erase a jury’s $5 billion judgment against the oil giant.

Corbis via Getty Images

The tanker off the coast of Yemen contains four times the amount that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, the second worst oil spill to date, and the Sri Lanka disaster would have been eight times that of the Exxon Valdez.

40 crew are still missing when their large ship carrying 6000 cows sunk just off the coast of Japan while heading into the eye of a typhoon.

The UN Secretary General and the Pope have called the crisis facing shipping a ‘Humanitarian Disaster’, but shipowners, the UN shipping regulator, the IMO, and other Governments do not appear to be taking the risks seriously.

Weak and poorly written UN Shipping Laws

The UN Shipping Regulator, IMO, has been accused of drafting weak and ineffective marine pollution laws that aim to protect polluters than the environment

The UN Shipping Regulator, IMO, has been accused of drafting weak and ineffective marine pollution … [+] laws that aim to protect polluters than the environment

International Maritime Organization

At the heart of the risk lies is the role of the UN agency responsible for shipping laws. A series of increasingly risky laws that are designed to protect ship owners than address the environmental concerns of nations, or ship safety, has been pointed to as a root cause of many shipping disasters and oil spills over the past decade.

The embattled head of the IMO, Kitack Lim, whose organization has been accused of putting shipowner profits above the need of the environment

The embattled head of the IMO, Kitack Lim, whose organization has been accused of putting shipowner … [+] profits above the need of the environment

Getty images

Both Mauritius and Sri Lanka have fallen victim to poorly written laws written for the UN by shipowners and such laws were specifically designed to limit cleanup payments for environmental damage from oil spills. Why the UN has been pushing such flawed laws will be under intense scrutiny.

The London-based regulator, called the International Maritime Organization, has also been in the spotlight for opting out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and attempting to undermine efforts to meet climate targets.

The IMO is meeting next week for a set of important climate talks, and analysts are waiting to see what level of ambition they are expected to emerge with, as climate protestors are calling out leaders who have not been taking the climate crisis seriously enough.

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