The Barents Sea lies to the north of European Russia, bounded to the east by the island of Novaya Zemlya. The Pechora River flows into the Pechorskoye Sea at its south-eastern corner. There are major commercial fisheries in the Barents Sea and some fish stocks are migratory, being shared with northern Norway. Large colonies of breeding seabirds are found along the coasts, particularly of Novaya Zemlya. The Pechorskoye Sea is usually ice-free until late December and supports large concentrations of sea duck. Marine mammals are also found in substantial numbers, notably the Beluga or White Whale, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and Polar Bear.
The Russian Arctic contains several large areas that are favourable for oil and gas accumulation. Important oil discoveries have been made in the Pechora basin. In 1976 oil production from the Pechora basin totaled about 175 000 barrels per day comprising nearly 2% of the national production of the USSR. There is a oil pipeline running southwards from the town of Usinsk to Ukhta and onwards towards to Moscow. The region is affected both by the physical infrastructure (roads, pipelines, etc.) and also the effects of numerous oil spills which have occurred over the years. Some of these are documented by Greenpeace.
At low temperatures, oil tends to persist for long periods because of the low rates of evaporation. The frozen ground prevents it from seeping in, and this has the effect of making it travel for long distances. Disturbance to the thin layer of vegetation covering a frozen soil can precipitate catastrophic meeting of the underlying ice and result in extensive thermokarst erosion.
Tundra environments are particularly susceptible to disturbance, and effects remain visible for many years. Many of the Arctic plants are very susceptible to pollutants, especially lichens which are the main food of reindeer.
Although, in the medium term, the oil may become stabilised within the snow and ice cover of the region, it will be released once this melts in the spring. This will coincide with the return of migrating birds and is likely to maximise its impact.
Arctic freshwater ecosystems are poorly buffered and therefore not well able to withstand pollutants. Freshwater fisheries will be affected by oil in the river course. The main breeding season of salmon is approaching when they congregate in shallow waters and will be at their most susceptible.
Further detail of the impacts of oil exploration is given in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in Arctic and Subarctic Onshore Regions; Guidelines for environmental protection. IUCN - The World Conservation Union and E&P Forum - The Oil Industry International, 1993
PROFILE OF NENTSKY ZAKAZNIK (also known as Pechorskij Zakaznik)
- IUCN Management Category IV (Managed Nature Reserve)
- Biogeographic region 2.27.09 (Low Arctic Tundra)
- Latitude and longitude 67°30'N, 52°30E
- Located on the delta of the Pechora River, which flows into Pechorskoye Sea, in the northern part of European Russia. Declared a zakaznik in 1967 and total area is approximately 540,000ha, of which 230,000ha comprises tundra and 310,000ha delta marshes. The area is an important breeding site for many waterfowl species, including Bewick and Whooper Swan, geese and other species.
PROFILE OF VAYGACH OSTROV ZAKAZNIK
Many of the surrounding areas, such as Khaypudyrskaya Guba (68°35'N, 59°45'E) and Varandeyskaya (68°50'N, 59°00'E) and Southern Coast of Cheshskaya Guba (66°50'N, 46°30'E) are also of great importance to waterfowl species, although the land itself is unprotected.
- Biogeographic region 2.27.09 (Low Arctic Tundra)
- This was declared a reserve in 1963, and the area totals 270,000ha. Polar bears and eider ducks are the two main species which are protected.
Seal species likely to be affected in Bolvan Bay include: (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust)
- Reindeer Rangifer tarandus
- The Komi Region holds one of the largest herds of domestic reindeer, estimated to number some 65,000-120,000 in the 1980s. Traditionally, the Komi people, were the main reindeer herders, but during the twentieth century, herding has largely been taken up by the Nenetz. There are also some 5,000-6,000 wild reindeer in the region.
- Beluga Delphinapterus leucas.
The Pechorskoye Sea holds some of the largest concentrations of White Whales in the Barents Sea. It is widely distributed throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas. The population is estimated to be about 50,000 of which about 2000 live in the Barents Sea. They are listed as listed as Insufficiently Known in the 1994 Red List of Threatened Animals. White whales are generally found in shallow coastal water, and they may regularly enter rivers, travelling some tens of kilometres and spending several hours in brackish or fresh water before returning to the sea as the tidal ebbs. Solitary animals have been reported hundreds to thousands of kilometres up rivers, although these are most likely to be vagrants.
Ringed Seal Pusa hispida
Bearded Seal Erignathus barbatus
Further information on birds has been prepared by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
The majority of the geese and waders which breed in the area migrate southwards in September and early October, not returning until mid-May. The Russky Zavorot Peninsula (Nenetsky Nature Park) is a major collecting point for migrating birds.
Sea ducks and seabirds may stay until the sea freezes. It is likely that the Pechorskoye Sea will hold significant quantities of birds moving westwards from the colder seas to the east.
- Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus
- Breeds on swampy, low-lying tundra. The Nenetsky Nature Park is one of the main breeding sites in European Russia. Spring migration passes through St Petersburg in late March - early April, arriving in Novaya Zemlya around mid-May. The autumn migration leaves the breeding territory in September, passing through St Petersburg in early November.
- Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
- Usually associated with large bodies of water, particularly where there is fringing vegetation. The Nenetsky Nature Park is one of the main breeding sites in European Russia. Spring migration arrives in Pechora region as early as mid-April. The autumn migration leaves in late September - mid October, following lake systems as much as possible. Small numbers winter in the White Sea and in unfrozen straits and polynyas.
- Common Eider Somateria mollisima
- Nests along most of the coastline, favouring small islands. Moves west with the onset of ice formation in November, some specimens wintering off the Murman coast.
- King Eider Somateria spectabilis
- Breeds on coastal tundra throughout the region. Winters in ice-free waters along the coast. Tens of thousands may winter around Kolguev Island, with smaller numbers on the west coast of Novaya Zemlya.
- Steller's Eider Polysticta stelleri
- Breeds west to Novaya Zemlya. Some birds may occur in the region until the sea freezes over.
- Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis
- Breeds on Kolguev Island and Novaya Zemlya. Large numbers winter off the Murman coast and in small numbers on floes at south-west Novaya Zemlya.
- Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
- Breeds on western Novaya Zemlya with 2,500 pairs recorded.
- Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
- About 8,500 pairs breed on western Novaya Zemlya.
- Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
- More than 29,200 pairs breed on western Novaya Zemlya.
- Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea
- Some pairs breed on the coast of Novaya Zemlya and migrants may be moving through the area until the sea freezes.
- Little Auk Alle alle
- Between 10,000 and 50,000 pairs bred on western Novaya Zemlya.
- Brünnich's Guillemot Uria lomvia
- Possibly as many as one million pairs breed on western Novaya Zemlya.
- Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
- About 5,000 pairs breed on Novaya Zemlya.
Formerly a very important commercial fishery, the Pechora delta area has suffered from extensive overfishing in the past. Subsistence fishing however remains very important to the indigenous Nenetz people and more commercial fishing is increasing in the area as fish stocks slowly return.
Important fish species in the Russkiy Zavorot / Pechora Delta area.
Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar
Inconnu (Nylma) Stenodus leucichthys
Peled Coregonus peled
Whitefish Coregonus sp. (2 - 3 species involved)
Smelt Osmerus eperlanus
Pike Esox lucius
Roach Rutilus rutilus
Burbot Lota lota
Perch Perca fluviatilis
Arctic Flounder Liopsetta glacialis
Source: Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
Grimmet, R.F.A. and Jones, T.A. (1990). Important Bird and Areas in Europe. International Council for Bird Preservation (European Continental Section) and International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K. 888 pp.
Shalybekov, A. and Storcheva, K. (1985). Prirodnye Zakazniki (Nature Reserve). Moscow. pp 10-11.
The information supplied in this package is the product of the Arctic Environmental Database, a collaborative project between WCMC, Moscow State University, the Scott Polar Research Institute and GRID-Arendal. Funding for the project has been supplied by the European Union and the UK Environmental Know How Fund.
Additional information for this information service has been supplied by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the UNEP/DHA Environment Unit.