In early October, there were reports that a large number of dead marine organisms were found on the Khalaktyr beach of Avacha Bay (Kamchatka Territory), washed ashore during a storm. At the same time, the water in the sea turned red and a strange foam formed on the surface. Divers and surfers who got into this foam got burns of mucous membranes, complained of nausea and diarrhea.
Potentially dangerous microalgae of the species Dinophysis Fortii. Photo: The Phytoplankton Encyclopaedia Project 2012 , CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Satellite data for 2019 and 2020: chlorophyll concentrations off the coast of southeastern Kamchatka. Photo: Laboratory of Satellite Monitoring of IAPU FEB RAS.
In the age of man-made disasters, environmentalists, officials and public figures first thought about the pollution of the sea with hazardous chemicals and organized an examination of possible sources of leakage of hydrocarbons, rocket fuel, etc. The samples of water, plankton and dead marine organisms collected at the crash site were sent to the Rospotrebnadzor laboratories. Some man-made toxic substances were found in the studied samples, however, in quantities less than the MPC, or several exceeding them, which do not pose a danger to marine life – mollusks, stars, octopuses. Later, these results were confirmed by other departments, including the Academy of Sciences.
“When we initially received a request for research, we had two groups of hypotheses: technogenic and natural. Among the natural ones are hypotheses related to seismic events and massive algal blooms. Gradually, as the results of the analysis were obtained, the technogenic version faded into the background, ” – said during a press conference in RIA-Novosti the vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, scientific director of the FSBI” National Scientific Center for Marine Biology named after A.V. Zhirmunsky ”FEB RAS Academician Andrey Vladimirovich Adrianov.
He explained that during seismic events such as a volcanic eruption, dangerous gases such as hydrogen sulfide can be released. However, the “seismic” version disappeared after the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences reported that there were no such events in Kamchatka in September-October.
At the same time, as Academician Adrianov noted, Kamchatka is characterized by a large-scale mass reproduction of microalgae that produce toxins, primarily diatoms.
“I am sure that we are faced with such a phenomenon, which is not uncommon for Kamchatka, as harmful water bloom, or the so-called red tides ,” the scientist emphasized.
He explained that these phenomena are seasonal and occur quite often, but go unnoticed, as they occur either under water, or in the more northern, sparsely populated areas of Kamchatka. Red tides appear suddenly, when microalgae cells emerge from billions of spores at once, and in just a matter of hours the color of the sea changes, and a characteristic foam appears on the surface. However, this does not last long – after a few days the sea begins to acquire its usual color, the foam disappears, and the ecosystem gradually returns to its equilibrium state. The trigger mechanism for the sudden massive development of toxic microalgae, as the vice-president of the Russian Academy of Sciences admitted, is still unknown.
Experts of the Russian Academy of Sciences do not consider the current blooming of microalgae to be a global catastrophe: the phenomenon was noticed in a rather limited area. In addition, warm-blooded animals were not harmed. Indirectly, this speaks to which microalgae caused the current red tide. The fact is that some of them produce poisons that cause amnesia, as well as neuroparalytic poisons that affect marine animals – walruses, seals, the mass death of which was repeatedly observed off the northern shores of Kamchatka and Chukotka, and off the shores of the United States and Canada. Now death is observed mainly among sea urchins and chitons, as the head of the laboratory of ecology of evolutionary biology of aquatic organisms of the Far Eastern Federal University Kirill Andreevich Vinnikov, who led the scientific landing of the Far Eastern Federal University to the site of the disaster, emphasized.
Academician Adrianov explained that during the rapid flowering of microalgae, marine organisms can die due to a lack of oxygen in the bottom layers of water. “Oxidation of this organic matter (algae – ed.) Draws off oxygen, and death occurs ,” he said.
Analysis of satellite information collected in September and early October confirmed the conclusions of scientists about the natural character of current events off the coast of Kamchatka. “From satellites, you can“ see ”not only algal blooms, but also determine their group by spectral lines , – explained Andrey Vladimirovich Adrianov. ” The main algae now seems to be the gymnadinium . ”
He stressed that this is only the first data on the nature of algae, now at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry. Academicians M.M. Shemyakin and Yu.A. Ovchinnikov and at the Pacific Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry named after G.B. Elyakova FEB RAS (TIBOCH) continue to investigate which algae caused the current phenomenon, and which toxin caused the death of marine life.
Director of TIBOCH Pavel Sergeevich Dmitrenok noted that the current event showed “how we should watch our oceans.” In his opinion, a Far Eastern Seas Monitoring Center should be created in Vladivostok (and possibly in Khabarovsk).
Scientists are unanimous in the opinion that what happened cannot be called an ecological catastrophe, since the observed negative phenomena are reversible. Kirill Andreevich Vinnikov emphasized that during the overflights of the entire southeastern coast of Kamchatka, which their squadron made on October 5, 7 and 8, they received the first evidence that the system is returning to its original state.