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Taman Beaches Are Still Not Cleaned of Fuel Oil Following the Kerch Catastrophe

Activists from Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus surveyed the beaches between the villages of Kuchugury and Ilyich as well as on the southern part of the Chushka Spit

On March 15-16, 2008, activists from Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus surveyed the beaches within two areas of the Taman Peninsula (Temriuk Raion, Krasnodar Krai) where the situation related to cleaning up the impacts of the catastrophe was particularly critical. This work is part of ongoing public environmental monitoring following the environmental catastrophe in the Strait of Kerch. As Environmental Watch previously reported, cleanup work on the beach has been carried out very ineffectively and in three areas (the southern part of the Chushka Spit, the area between the villages of Ulyich and the Pekla Cape, and the area between the Panagiya Cape and Tuzla) was undertaken very late.

On March 15, Environmental Watch activists walked along the beach from the village of Kuchugury to the village of Ilyich. The total length of the surveyed beach was around twenty kilometers. Volunteers from the World Wildlife Fund’s camp in the village of Ilyich participated in the survey of the first section (from the village of Kuchugury to the Pekla Cape). On the Kuchugury beaches individual clumps of fuel oil were visible in the sand, and the further down the beach one went, the worse the picture became. Without a doubt, it is better than at the end of November 2007, when the beach between Pekla Cape and the village of Ilyich was completely uncleaned. It was noticeable that on this section of the shore, significant work had been undertaken to clean up the fuel oil. However, it is still far from complete. In addition, along the entire twenty kilometers of beach, Environmental Watch activists did not meet one other person who was cleaning up the beach. Instead, along the entire route, they found several thousand uncollected bags filled with fuel oil, some of which, under the rays of the spring sun, leaked melting fuel oil onto the sand. They also saw chunks of freshly washed up fuel oil and vast areas where no cleanup had taken place at all.

Twice this year, Environmental Watch has gone to the beaches of the Sea of Azov in the area near the village of Priazovskii and the Pekla Cape. In January they found bags of collected fuel oil along the beach, frozen in the ice of the Sea of Azov. At the end of February, the bags had been taken from this area of the beach, which had been cleaned up. As a result, one had the impression that, in fact, cleanup of the beaches was occuring as it should. However, as the survey of March 15 demonstrated, this was only a partial improvement of the situation.

Cleanup is complicated here by the lack of road access to much of the beach. However, the fuel oil was not removed from this area, either, which does have a normal exit route. Furthermore, the coating of fuel oil pollution in many areas is currently buried under a thick layer of sand and shells, which were carried ashore during storms following the catastrophe. This makes it very difficult to remove the petroleum products. However, it is important to do this as quickly as possible, before the hot weather hits, when removal of the fuel oil will be even more difficult.

One of the most beautiful natural territories of the Taman Peninsula—Switzerland of Taman—and two tourist villages, Kuchugury and Ilyich, are located on the surveyed territory. If this area is not cleaned up soon, not only will the environment of this part of the Taman Peninsula suffer, but there will also be a very negative impact on tourism in these places.

On March 16, activists from the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus and Saving Taman! surveyed the beach on the southern part of the Chushka Spit, which has been closed to visitors since the fall of last year by the guards at the Port of Kavkaz. The basic reason for this is obviously to hide from the public eye the extremely unsightly state of things in this part of Chushka.

What was seen in Southern Chushka is outside of the bounds of healthy perception. In this area—the most valuable parts of the beach from an environmental perspective, since this holds one of the most precious sections of the Taman-Zaporozhe Nature Reserves and one of the largest concentrations of birds is here—the situation with the cleanup of the beach, as before, remains catastrophic. In certain areas that are saturated with fuel oil, algae have closed the beach with a thick rug 30 to 50 meters wide. Thus, cleanup here is going very slowly—on the beach only one brigade of eight people was seen picking up fuel oil by hand. At that rate, it will take several years to clean up all the fuel oil on the southern part of the Chushka Spit. Surveying the beach demonstrated that the fuel oil pollution has impacted not only the western beaches of the Chushka Spit on the side of the Kerch Spit, but fuel oil is also on the east beaches of the Spit—on the side of the Taman Strait. The island in the area of the southern end of Chushka is also polluted with fuel oil.

During the survey of the stretches of beach, activists from Environmental Watch did not see any freshly oiled birds, but they saw a lot of dead birds, especially along the southern part of the Chushka Spit. In addition, they saw several mullet washed up on the shore near the villages of Priazovskii and Ilyich. According to local residents, this was evidence of fuel oil pollution in the sea. No one remembered ever seeing mullet washed up on the shore.

The results of the latest survey of the shore showed how incredibly ineffective the activities of the Russian state bodies have been, which are responsible for liquidating the impacts of the catastrophe in the Strait of Kerch. Regardless of the fact that over four months have already passed since the catastrophe, the cleanup of the fuel oil on the beach is still incomplete and is being carried out at a completely inadequate level.

Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus thanks Crude Accountability and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for their cooperation in surveying the beaches of the Taman Peninsula.

Translation by Crude Accountability