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New nature reserve to protect Great Siberian Ice Hole and mammoth bones

By The Siberian Times reporter
09 February 2017

Approval expected soon for remote eco-zone in Arctic including all year watering hole, a magnet to rare animals.

More than 8 million hectares is earmarked to become a new nature reserve on the De Long and Anzhu islands. Picture: Igor Vityuk

The famous Great Siberian Ice Hole is a rare location in the New Siberian Islands where unusual conditions mean the water never freezes in winter. More than 8 million hectares is earmarked to become a new nature reserve on the De Long and Anzhu islands.

It is intended that the new nature reserve development - approved by the republican authorities in Yakutia but still requiring Moscow's sign-off - will provide protection from illegal hunters seeking to collect extinct woolly mammoth bones on these remote Arctic islands. 

The islands are the world's largest deposit of mammoth bones, and currently they are actively extracted in violation of environmental regulations. The Great Siberian Ice Hole is a haven to an array of animals - many from the Red Book - to take advantage of its ice-free state. 

Great Siberian Ice Hole


Great Siberian Ice Hole


Map

The strip of open water in the Laptev Sea resembles a river, although it isn't. Pictures: The Siberian Times, GEOMAR

Among them: the Laptev subspecies of walrus, spectacled eider, seagull, and Bewick's swan.

Here too are polar bears, one of the world's least studied populations. 

The strip of open water in the Laptev Sea resembles a river, although it isn't. On the outer edge of the fast ice is Bolshoy Begichev Island in the Laptev Sea and the Medvezyi Islands in the East Siberian Sea.

In summer the surface is completely open, and in winter there usually young ice, but is never a hard cover. 

The key to this unusual phenomenon are southern winds which prevent the thick ice from developing, according to scientists. The Ice Hole was first discovered in the early 19th century. 

Permfrost thaw


Novaya Sibir


De Long Islands

Permafrost layers. Mammoth bones hunter on New Siberia island. Jeannette Island. Pictures: Evgeny Gusev, Yaroslav Nikitin, GeoNikolas

In 1811 it was observed by Lieutenant Tatarinov some 25 versts (1.07 km) from the island of New Siberia and by hunter Yakov Sannikov some 30 versts to the north from Cape Blagoveshchensky. The first full description appeared in 1824 following explorations by Peter Anjou (Anzhu) and Ferdinand Wrangel in the previous three years. 

Mammoth tusk and bone hunting in this area is a growing industry. 

Collecting from the ground is legal but poachers often use water pumps to denigrate the permafrost, worsening coastal erosion which is already in retreat by some 20 metres a year.

Walrus


Polar bear cub

Laptev subspecies of walrus. World's least studied population of polar bear. Picture: Red Book of Krasnoyarsk region, Valery Maleev/WWF Russia

Mikhail Stishov, of WWF-Russia Arctic, said: 'Looking for bone, poachers are destroying the soil cover, vegetation and the whole terrestrial ecosystem, which may never recover. 

'Nature in the Arctic is extremely fragile. Because of the low temperatures, all processes are slowed down, and it takes very long to recover. 

'In addition, the bone hunters are 'thrown' on the islands by helicopters, with small products supply, when the food runs out, they go to hunt, and certainly do not understand which  is a rare animal and which is not.'

Comments (2)

Great job you guys are doing to begin the preservation of huge areas of Siberia. One question: If these waterways stay liquid all year long, has any archaeology been done to try to discover any ancient human habitations and/or immigration or hunting routes?
Erik Bosma, Mission, BC, Canada
17/02/2017 01:32
1
0
Thank you to everyone involved in developing the plan and obtaining approval to designate this spectacular habitat a nature reserve. Спасибо всем, кто участвовал в разработке и получении разрешений для обозначения этого зрелищного среды обитания заповедником.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
11/02/2017 18:47
0
0
1

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