Scientists found out what kind of litter threatens marine animals in Kamchatka

Scientists found out what kind of litter threatens marine animals in Kamchatka.


The staff of Kronotsky Reserve have published the results of a large-scale summer expedition to collect and classify litter on the coast of South Kamchatka Sanctuary. The main pollutants threatening the lives of marine and coastal animals have been identified.

In July 2021, with the support of the Khakass Republic regional branch of Russian Geographical Society, PJSC RusHydro and “Zapovednik” environmental charity fund, a field research expedition on the collection and recording of marine debris took place on the coast of South Kamchatka Reserve. Kronotsky Reserve employees, GIS engineers, a waste management expert and volunteers took part in the expedition. The experts investigated 7 kilometers of the Sea of Okhotsk coastline, identified and classified the litter according to such parameters as material, number of fragments, weight, brand, etc.

In total, almost 7.5 thousand fragments of marine debris with a total weight of about three tons were found. The main pollutant of the Sea of Okhotsk coast of South Kamchatka Reserve was plastic, which takes 87% of the total number of fragments and 69% of the total mass of marine debris. At the same time, for every kilogram of household plastic there are three to seven kilograms of plastic fishing and shipping gear.

Marine debris literally kills animals. In the special protection natural areas of the Far East, experts regularly report cases of injury and tragic death of animals and birds. According to marine mammal expert Vladimir Vertyankin, broken nets with buoys become one of the most frequent causes of whale deaths. These animals, when coming to the surface, get entangled in the fishing gear with their forelimbs or tails. The whale spins around and tries to throw the nets off, but gets entangled even more, wrapping them tighter around the body. As a result, the whale loses its ability to dive for food and dies from starvation and necrosis.

Once on the coast, marine debris becomes dangerous for coastal species as well. 

"All over Kamchatka we see injury and death of seals, sea birds, land animals caused by fishing gear, balloons, shopping bags and ribbons. And even in our protected area, remote from settlements, we cannot protect the inhabitants from litter. Therefore, it is important to deal with the problem not only within the boundaries of the Reserve. Firstly, we have to work on ecological culture in Kamchatka, and reduce the amount of plastic waste. Secondly, after we create East Kamchatka Nature Reserve near Shipunsky Point and Kekurny Cape in 2022-2033, we plan to form a rapid response group there in order to help marine life. Employees of special protection natural areas with the help of volunteers and veterinarians will rescue animals that are entangled in nets and rubbish or get injured,” said Piotr Shpilenok, director of Kronotsky Reserve. 

Such projects already exist in Russia, such as the Sakhalin-based marine animal aid group called “Friends of the Ocean”, the “Friends of the Baltic Seal” Foundation or the “Serene Sea” Centre in Crimea.

Special protection natural areas cannot solve the problem of the coast pollution on their own - flows carry and spread litter hundreds of kilometers away. Therefore, in the research report, the scientists recommend developing comprehensive measures involving all those who affected the problem, including representatives of fishing and shipping companies and brands, containers and packaging of which were most frequently found on the coast.

Roman Korchigin, the director of “Zapovednik” Foundation, said: "This pilot study was extremely important, but we cannot stop there. We want to make such studies regular. It is also important to involve environmentally responsible businesses and volunteers in this work, and to publicize the results of the survey widely. The more people see the consequences of pollution of the seas and oceans in person or at least in the media, the more supporters of sustainable lifestile will emerge. And this is crucial in the fight against litter.”


Top 10 pollutant items by number
Plastic bottles
Unidentified plastic fragments
Bottle lids
Recycled wood fragments
Buoys and floats
Plastic sheeting
Stretching tape
Packaging from household chemicals
Glass bottles

Top 10 contaminants by weight
Fishing nets
Wood chips
Plastic bottles
Metal fuel drums
Wooden pallets
Buoys and floats
Crab traps
Unidentified plastic fragments

Branded rubbish
South Korean brands - nearly 50%
Russian brands - nearly 28%
The rest are American, Japanese and brands from other countries.

Top 5 polluters by fragments of branded marine debris
스파클 Sparkle - 31%
CJSC “Malkinskoye” - 6.7%
“Slavda Group” - 6%
Woosin Trading Co. - 3,5%
The Coca-Cola Company - 3.4%