20,000 Ton Oil Spill in Russian Arctic Has 'Catastrophic Consequences' for Wildlife
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into a river in the Arctic Circle.
The accident is the second largest oil spill in terms of volume in modern Russian history, the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) told AFP, as BBC News reported. The oil spread around 7.5 miles from the fuel site, turning the Ambarnaya river bright red, and contaminated a total of 135 square miles.
"The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come," Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement reported by CNN. "We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals."
Russia's environmental ministry Rosprirodnadzor is already reporting contaminant levels in the water that are tens of thousands of times higher than the safe limit.
"[T]here has never been such an accident in the Arctic zone, " former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol told BBC News.
Greenpeace compared the disaster to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
There was a huge fuel spill near the city of Norilsk in Russia. Putin apparently found out 2 days after and a state of emergency has been ordered. Last week a fuel reservoir at a power plant collapsed https://t.co/35j5VfR9Sf— Olga Lautman (@olgaNYC1211) June 4, 2020
The spill occurred last Friday when a fuel tank at a power plant near the city of Norilsk in Siberia collapsed. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world's No. 1 producer of nickel and palladium. Its factories are also the reason why Norilsk is one of the most polluted places on Earth, The Guardian reported.
The plant initially attempted to clean the spill on their own and did not tell authorities about the incident for two days, Ministry of Emergency Situations head Evgeny Zinichev said, according to CNN.
Alexei Knizhnikov of WWF said his group was the first to inform cleanup specialists of the spill, according to The Guardian.
"These are huge volumes," he said. "It was difficult for them to cover it up."
The governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, where the spill took place, told Putin he only learned of it Sunday from social media posts.
"Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy over there?" Putin scolded Sergei Lipin, the head of NTEK, as the subsidiary that owns the plant is called.
Norilsk Nickel countered that NTEK had alerted authorities in a "timely and proper" fashion.
The Russian government has opened three criminal investigations into the incident and detained one plant employee.
The emergency declaration will increase resources for the cleanup. However, the river will be difficult to clean because it is too shallow for barges and in a remote area with few roads.
"Right now we can assume ... that due to abnormally mild summer temperatures recorded in the past years, permafrost could have melted and the pillars under the platform could have sank," Norilsk Nickel chief operating officer Sergey Dyachenko told the TASS news agency, as CNN reported.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Northern Asia and Siberia have recorded temperatures on average more than four degrees Celsius above normal during the first four months of 2020. That is the most above normal of any region so far this year.
An "astonishing" heat wave is gripping Siberia, where temperatures are hotter than they are in D.C. Temperature anomalies are about 40 deg F above average. Oh, and have we mentioned the possibility of "zombie fires?" Yeah, that's a thing. https://t.co/gKpgnvhF74 pic.twitter.com/3ivj1m0ZSO— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) May 22, 2020
In late May, Siberia was hotter than Washington, DC and recorded temperatures about 40 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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