Reports have emerged that a mysterious Russian oil spill has killed as much as 95% of the surrounding marine life, after weeks of silence from Russian authorities.
The first signs of a potential oil spill in the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula came after a group of surfers in the local area noted feeling the symptoms of food poisoning, as well as pains in their eyes.
According to a report from CNN, “in early September, the water changed color to a greyish-yellow, with a tick milky foam on the surface, and a strong foul smell filled the air. A few days later, octopuses, seals and other sea creatures began to wash up on the beach.”
That same report says that petroleum levels recorded were 3.6 higher than normal levels, with scientists noting that the high levels of phenol, a chemical used as a disinfectant, were indicative of a potential clean-up effort.
At first, local authorities remained tight lipped and dismissed early reports of a potential oil spill in the area. The local Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology said that changes to the colour and smell of the ocean represented “nothing abnormal,” insisting that there was no major issue to be concerned about.
Now, however, after weeks of public pressure, the Russian government launched a formal investigation by its Investigative Committee on Wednesday. The investigation is said to be a criminal probe into violations of environmental regulations that govern the transport of waste and harmful chemicals like oil that could result in the collapse of marine populations in the event of a spill.
Since launching the investigation, Kamchatskia’s Governor, Vladimir Solodov flanked by local scientists have confirmed that the majority of sealife in the area has been killed.
“On the shore, we did not find any large dead sea animals or birds,” Ivan Usatov, a Russian scientist said. “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,” Usatov added.
The team of scientists also believes that the polluted area is significantly larger than first anticipated, adding that any remaining marine life will struggle to survive after a dramatic change to its food chain and reduction of biodiversity in the area.
At this stage, it remains unknown as to what caused the spill. Suggestions of an oil tanker or military operation gone-wrong have been dismissed by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The Investigative Committee has released a statement saying that “the investigators are checking all possible sources of pollution, including the territories of landfills adjacent to the Avachinsky Bay and the coastal strip of Khalaktyr where toxic chemicals are stored.”
Greenpeace’s Russian arm has pointed out that a toxic waste dump not too far from the site has the potential to be the source of the spill. Earlier this week, officials of the Kamchatka region confirmed that the site stores more than 100 tonnes of pesticides and toxic chemicals.
Kristina Rozenberg, who works as a tour guide in the surrounding area has posted on Instagram that “our guys went diving and they came back to surface with tears on their eyes! The entire seabed was full of dead animals’ corpses,” she wrote.
“All of our underwater beauty is of gray and yellow colours, the fish looks like they’ve been boiling in hot water… and this is all happening just 200 meters away from the house I live in,” Rozenberg said.