Marine life found dead amid ecological disaster

Lily Holbrook discusses the ecological disaster that left thousands of marine animals dead

Lily Holbrook
12th October 2020

Russian activists have declared an 'ecological catastrophe' following the deaths of thousands of marine creatures along the east coast of Kamchatka, Russia.

Alarming images of octopuses, urchins and swathes of dead sea creatures confirm huge mortalities of marine life across the Kamchatka region. Following dive surveys of the area, 95% of benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms are thought to be dead, according to Ivan Usatov, researcher at the Kronotsky Nature Reserve and Pacific Institute of Geography.

Water samples indicated petroleum levels 4 times higher and phenol levels 2.5 times higher than usual.

Initial reports queried a nearby oil leakage, but increasing focus suggests pesticide contamination from a nearby secret plant may be the culprit. In tests carried out by Greenpeace, water samples indicated petroleum levels 4 times higher and phenol levels 2.5 times higher than usual.

This catastrophe has huge implications for ecosystem functioning, where loss of key organisms can have cascading effects. Chemical contamination, such as that evident here, can have a damaging effect on populations of bottom-dwelling organisms. With fewer grazing organisms to keep algal populations in check, the risk of harmful algal blooms (HABs) may be exacerbated. These blooms can pose a risk to human health and marine life by depleting oxygen levels.

The fate of persisting organisms remains at risk, where depletion of their benthic prey may inhibit survival.

The problem was first reported by a group of surfers over a month ago, complaining of eye irritation and chemical burns as a result of entering the water surrounding the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The extent of the disaster was originally downplayed by local authorities: “The color of the water is normal, the smell of the air is normal, the beach is completely clean.”

However, further investigations suggest that these initial dismissals were far from the truth.

With scenes that wouldn't be lost in an apocalyptic film, this catastrophe throws into the spotlight anthropogenic damage to the environment.

Featured Image: NASA via flickr

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AUTHOR: Lily Holbrook
MA Media & Journalism student and science sub-editor for the 20/21 academic year.

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