Is Russia's Greatest National Treasure Under Threat?
Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest lake. It contains 20% of the world’s fresh water, and it is Russia’s biggest national treasure. Apparently the region’s ecology has taken a turn for the worse, however. The water level has dropped significantly in the last three years and the lake seems to be changing and even dying in places. Previously known for the clarity of its water, the lake has been home to hundreds of unique species of plants and animals throughout its existence.
The region’s beauty and rich biodiversity attracts many visitors every year. Though, while tourism brings in much needed cash to the area, it also has a down side; tourists bring pollution and garbage. For the last 70 years, local biologists have been monitoring the lake and they’re becoming increasingly concerned.
Seven years after his last visit, James Brown joins a team of researchers who organized an expedition to dive, sail, and get water and sediment samples to see just how bad the situation really is. Visual examination reveals that the water is especially murky. That usually means that a certain type of algae, found in swamps and stagnant water, has been spreading along the coastline. This indicates that there are growing levels of pollution. Along with the disturbing signs, there are a few hopeful ones too, like certain endemic animal populations starting to recover.
A few of the team members embark on a three-month project in which they will be sailing Baikal on a catamaran. One of the most disgusting sights they see on dry land is a mound of garbage right in the middle of a beautiful forest. The garbage was untreated and unclassified. It was just dropped there. There were plastic bags with household organic waste, boxes, large pieces of Styrofoam, glass bottles, and many other items that could eventually end up destroying the environment.
James visits Olkhon, a favorite among tourists, to see how ecologists and volunteers are trying to educate the public about the pollution they leave behind. They tell them about using phosphate-free detergents, recycling, and how to dispose of their organic waste. By raising awareness about environmental issues, they’ve come up with effective strategies to preserve Baikal’s unique beauty and pristine water quality.
Something is affecting the lake’s fish and that is an issue of great concern. A favorite traditional dish of the region includes omur. But this specie can’t spawn on rocks covered by filaments. They need clean rocks to spawn. If they are unable to reproduce, fishing will be affected enormously to the point that local fisheries will have to close. This will be a huge blow to the local economy because Olkhon is a fishing village.