The Great Arctic Zapovednik: WWF's first Soviet Union project
“I had been privileged to lead expeditions to the Taimyr Peninsula in the northernmost reaches of Siberia,” he says. “In 1993 this resulted in the establishment of the 42,000 km2 'Great Arctic Nature Reserve' or Zapovednik, which was WWF’s first project in the Soviet Union.”
Prokosch established the Arctic Programme of WWF International in 1992. “Those exciting developments in Russia were the crucial preconditions to think and cooperate in a true circumpolar manner,” he says. Since Russia encompasses half of the entire Arctic, WWF’s reach there was significantly enhanced with the establishment of WWF Russia in 1994.
Since then, the Russian Arctic, protected areas have doubled to approximately 350,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Germany or Norway. These include the 1993 creation of the Great Arctic Reserve in northern Taimyr and the extension of the Lena Delta reserve.
In addition, the zapovednik also manages the territory of two other nearby sanctuaries, the federal Severozemelsky Zakaznik and the regional Brekhovskie Islands Zakaznik. Another federal sanctuary, Pyasninsky Zakaznik, is located just south of the zapovednik and was founded to protect the summer habitats of wild reindeer and the nesting and molting sites of many geese.
Scientific research has a long history in the region and continues to be an important function of the zapovednik. Polar research stations have been established in several areas of the zapovednik and numerous Russian and international research projects continue to increase knowledge and understanding of arctic ecosystems.
Some of the mammals that can survive the harsh polar climate of the Great Arctic Zapovednik and which enjoy the protective reach of this vast reserve include polar bears, Arctic foxes, reindeer, wolverines and arctic and brown lemmings. Ringed seals – the smallest of all seals – bearded seals, beluga whales, and musk oxen can also be found in the zapovednik along with 124 recorded bird species, 55 of which nest here. Walruses also congregate on the shores of the reserve.
Nonetheless, several factors could threaten the ecosystems protected in the zapovednik. Conservationists are concerned about the Norilsk Metallurgical Plant, which has been operating near the headwaters of the Pyasina River since the mid-1900s and which some say is polluting nearby rivers.
Other concerns include the residue of nuclear tests on Novaya Zemlya and the presence of nuclear waste repositories in the Karsk Sea. Plans to expand mining operations in the Taimyr also pose a potential threat to arctic ecosystems in and around the Great Arctic Zapovednik.