Investigators probe 'possible ecological catastrophe' in Russia's far east

·3 min read

Russian investigators said Saturday they were looking into “a possible ecological catastrophe” in the eastern Kamchatka region, after scores of dead sea creatures washed up in one of it bays and surfers reported burns to their eyes and throats.

Images of dead seals, octopi, starfish and urchins on the Khalaktyrsky Beach in the Avacha Bay have been shared on social media for several days.

Surfers in the area have also complained that the sea had an unnatural smell and color.

Local government in the region, which is known for its pristine beaches and volcanic black sand, shared a video of one surfer, Anton Morozov, on Sunday.

He said a number of surfers have suffered chemical burns to their eyes, adding that he had not seen anything like it in 15 years.

“We need to understand what will happen to our health, to the health of animals,” Morozov said.

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His fellow surfer, Natalia Danilova, said in an Instagram post Friday that she was diagnosed with a chemical burn to her cornea after spending time in the water in the bay.

Danilova said she had been surfing in the area since August, but three weeks ago she started to struggle with her vision. Others in her surfing group had similar symptoms, while some were also throwing up and complained of breathing problems, she added.

Authorities had not posted any warnings in the area and there had been no official explanation as to what might have caused it, she said.

NBC News has not been able to verify her claims.

Governor Vladimir Solodov speaks on the Avacha Bay coast, in Russia's Kamchatka Region, on Sunday. (Alexandr Piragis / Sputnik via AP)
Governor Vladimir Solodov speaks on the Avacha Bay coast, in Russia's Kamchatka Region, on Sunday. (Alexandr Piragis / Sputnik via AP)

Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement Saturday that it had sent a team to look into the mass death of marine mammals in the area and "a possible ecological catastrophe."

The committee said there had been reports of increased concentrations of oil products and phenols "from an unidentified source in the sea coastal waters."

“Experts have taken samples of sea water, air and sand, as well as carried out other verification activities aimed at establishing all the circumstances of the incident,” the statement said.

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Kamchatka Gov. Vladimir Solodov said the ecological situation on the Khalaktyrsky Beach was a “source of serious concern,” in a series of videos posted to his Instagram page Friday.

The following day, he posted another video to the social media site calling on all surfers to seek medical help if they had been exposed. Additional water, sand and animal samples from the area were sent to Moscow for analysis, he said. The regional government said preliminary results are expected on Monday.

Thanking local bloggers and surfers for alerting authorities about the situation in an Instagram video Sunday, Solodov said the color of the seawater had evened out in the area and there were no stains on the water that would be indicative of an oil spill.

However, the Russian branch of environmental group Greenpeace tweeted Saturday night that an "environmental disaster" had taken place in Kamchatka and called for an immediate investigation.

“The unique nature of Kamchatka, the UNESCO World Natural Heritage is under threat,” head of the climate project with Greenpeace Russia, Vasily Yablokov, said in a statement on the organization’s website.

“One of the best surfing beaches in Russia, one of the main tourist attractions of the region is life-threatening and calls into question the development of the region's tourism potential," he added.

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