Chukotka's Natural Heritage
Large industrial projects present the greatest risk to Chukotka’s ecosystems. Chief among them are the exploration and exploitation of natural resource deposits – oil, natural gas, gold, silver and platinum amongst others. Wastes from the Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant and outdated radio-isotopic thermo-electro generators (RITEGs) along Chukotka’s coast threaten radioactive pollution.
Climate change, too, is having a noticeable impact on the region. Its effects include diminishing sea ice cover, changes in the distribution and abundance of fi sh and other marine species, and an increase in severe weather events that cause coastal erosion and flooding. Tundra fires also pose a serious threat.
Its natural and cultural treasures make Chukotka a priority for WWF’s conservation work. In recent years, the work of WWF’s Bering Sea Ecoregion Programme has focused on coastal and marine conservation, including the designation of Wrangel Island as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and environmental education for young people (see Arctic Bulletin 4/03).
Protecting polar bears
Currently, WWF’s focus in Chukotka is on polar bear conservation, both at the management level (and in support of the implementation of the US/Russian treaty on the conservation and management of the shared population of polar bears) and with regard to conservation needs in the face of climate change, pollution and human-bear confl icts. Scientists, in cooperation with native coastal villages, gather information on the status and behaviour of polar bear populations and the threat from illegal hunting, and help develop management practices for the legal subsistence hunt allowed under the treaty (once activated). The protection of critical denning habitat is an important part of the work, too.
A workshop on community-based ecotourism hosted by WWF and the Government of Chukotskiy Autonomous Region, recognised the environment and protected areas of Chukotka as “key attractions for tourism” that “increase Chukotka’s visibility with potential tourists”.
Protected areas are not a new concept to Chukotka. In 1960, Wrangel Island was established as a long-term wildlife refuge and later upgraded to a state nature reserve (zapovednik), the only one in Chukotka.
Ambitious plans for a network of protected areas have since gained and lost political support, and plans for the establishment of Beringia Heritage International Park, which would protect both sides of the Bering Strait, have stalled.
In fact, the process to follow up on the protected area plans has not only slowed, but led to less protection. During the course of 2002, the operational periods of three of the regional wildlife refuges – Tumansky, Tundrovy, and Omolonsky – expired, and regional authorities dissolved them. In 2005, however, the Administration of the Chukotksky Autonomous Okrug decided to re-establish the three regional refuges. The reestablishment process is still underway.
Arctic Tourism Officer
WWF International Arctic Programme