Almost All Seafloor Life in Part of Russia's Kamchatka Region Wiped Out in 'Environmental Disaster'

The carcasses of sea creatures have washed up on the beaches of Kamchatka in eastern Russia, amid an unexpected mass death of marine animals that has been labeled an "environmental disaster" by one underwater photographer at the scene.

Images posted on social media appear to show dead octopuses, crabs and seals in the normally pristine remote Russian region on the Pacific Ocean coast.

Those who frequent the beaches in the area have also complained of getting fever, rashes and swollen eyelids after going in the water. According to reports, the water changed color, acquired a strange smell and began to foam on the surface.

"Everything became blurry as if I was in a fog," Maksim Ionov wrote on Instagram after surfing on Khalaktyrsky beach, in the region.

"I was scared and did not understand what was happening. I was even scared I would wake up blind," he added.

An expedition team of scientists from the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, the Kamchatka Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography and the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography took water samples and surveyed the area.

Scientists found almost all of the marine life along the seabed in Avancha Bay had been killed, according to an account by researcher Ivan Usatov.

"When diving, we found that at depths from 10 to 15 meters...95 percent are dead. Some large fish, shrimps, crabs have survived, but in very small quantities," he said, according to the website of the regional governor, Vladimir Solodov.

The underwater photographer Alexander Korobok, who was on the expedition, said: "After this dive, I can confirm that there is an environmental disaster.

"The ecosystem has been significantly undermined and this will have long-term consequences, since everything in nature is interconnected," he added.

Russia's emergencies ministry is investigating the waters amid speculation that the cause of the contamination came from two nearby military test sites, perhaps by the leakage of rocket fuel, although this has been rejected by Kamchatka's governor.

Another theory, Radio Free Europe reported, suggests a fuel leak from one of the ships that come through the waters near the Bering Sea could have been responsible.

The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said the death of animals suggested both a surface contamination of the ocean and the release of a chemical that had diluted in the water.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace Russia's climate project leader, Vasily Yablokov, said he believed that a pollutant, not only on the surface but also in the water, is moving along the coast. He told The Moscow Times that tests showed petroleum levels were four times higher than usual and phenol levels were 2.5 times higher.

"Weather permitting we'll continue gathering samples and send those we already have to Moscow, as soon as possible, so they can shed light on what happened here," he told Radio Free Europe.

A statement on Greenpeace's website said it hoped that "the causes of the ecological disaster in Kamchatka will be found and all the necessary measures will be taken to eliminate it," adding it hoped that "the perpetrators will be punished in accordance with the requirements of Russian law."

It is the latest environmental disaster to hit a remote part of the world's largest country.

In May, fuel spill near the Arctic Circle city of Norilsk released 20,000 tons of diesel into waterways.

ENvironmental groups, including WWF And Greenpeace, have called for an end to heavy industry in ecologically vulnerable parts of Russia. Newsweek has contacted the WWF and Greenpeace for comment.

Kamchatka
Vilyuchinskaya sopka volcano in Kamchatka, Russia is shown in this illustrative image taken in 2007. A probe is underway into the cause of the mass deaths of sean animals in the far-eastern Russian region. Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images