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A preliminary estimation of the potential threats to the Barents sea seabirds during shtockmanovskoye gasfield development Печать E-mail

Murmansk Marine Biological Institute RAS World Wildlife Fund/Russian Branch

In the presentation there is discussed a preliminary estimation of the potential threads to the sea birds at the development of the Stockman field, the problems appearing at that including those connected with the international obligations of Russia are analyzed.

Exploration of the marine hydrocarbon resources is capable to affect negatively the marine ecosystems and first of all the sea birds, hi the Barents Sea basin hydrocarbon contamination is especially dangerous for the birds-divers (sea ducks and alciformed birds). Representatives of alcifomied - Brunnich's guillemot Uria lomvia and little auk alle alle are the most numerous in the Barents Sea.

Agreement on the environmental protection in the Arctic was concluded by several countries including Russia in 1991. Together with other problems it presupposed the development of Arctic fauna and flora protection strategy (CAFF). In 1992 in Ottawa (Canada) it was decided to concentrate the major forces on the protection of some sea birds species and first of all two guillemot species - Atlantic murre U. aalge and Brunnich's guillemot Uria lomvia. As in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea the latter species is the most numerous it demands special attention from the Russian side. According to our estimates its population abundance is in the range 500 thousand - 1 mill specimens. Some of the largest colonies of Brunnich's guillemot in the Barents Sea are located on the west coast of the Novaya Zemlya. Russia took an active part in the discussions and final development of the Arctic guillemots protection strategy and plans of arrangement (International Murre Conservation Strategy and Action Plan. CAFF. 1996). It should be noted that one of the meetings took place in Moscow in 1995.

When the mentioned above document was developed the experts understood clearly and took it into consideration that guillemots are highly vulnerable (due to their ecological peculiarities) and a possibility of effective protection only when complete and correct information on the state of the species is available. Its purpose was the introduction of the initiative actions for the protection and restoration of the guillemots’ populations in the Arctic. To achieve this goal among other arrangements it was supposed to reduce to minimum the negative impact of diverse aspects of economic activity on the birds. The sides stressed the necessity to unite the efforts for the successful realization of the program. Since the moment of the above mentioned documents development sufficient time has already passed to appreciate its vitality and effectiveness in the Russian conditions. Moreover, during the last decade actuality of the presupposed actions increased significantly due to the oil-gas excavation on the sea shelves including the Barents Sea.

Strategy of sea birds protection in Russia is based on the network of the especially protected natural territories and areas where the major role is given to the state natural reserves. Since the moment of its active formation and up to now it solved upon the whole the stated before it tasks. With the start of the commercial excavation of hydrocarbon raw on the shelf and mass transportation of oil products over the Barents Sea the state of affairs began to change rapidly. The State reserves and preserves boundaries on the sea areas are not able to protect natural complexes from the accidental oil spills. Due to the peculiarities of its ecology guillemots are especially vulnerable to oil products contamination. Even a small amount of the latter causes birds mortality from the super-cooling.

The amount of works on the oil-gas excavation accompany. Before the start of any design there are carried out usually engineer-ecological studies, environmental impact assessment, ecological expertise. That is so. But in Russia engineering side of the preparation of the sea fields development anticipates noticeably the development of nature protection arrangements appealing to neutralize or to reduce to minimum possible negative impacts on both: the ecosystem in general and on sea birds in particular. More than that, even if the large amount of normative documents determining the ecological accompany of oil and gas excavation on the Russia shelf is available, significant gaps exist in this problem. One of the major problems not solved up to the end is a based choice of ecological investigations amount on different accompany stages of such designs, requirements and demands to the amount of the information being collected when the ecological-engineering studies, environmental impact assessment and ecological monitoring are carried out (Dukhno, 2004).

From the practice of making such arrangements it is known that minimal amount of works is financed. For instance when EIA is being prepared the estimation of Stockman gas-condensate field exploitation impact on sea birds is of vital importance. For this first of all the information on the abundance and regularities of seasonal birds distribution on the area at least in the eastern Barents Sea is obligatory. Historically it happened so that the sea birds investigations were earned out in that part of the sea on a reduced scale and mostly in several nesting colonies only .hi fact using all the amount of information available it is impossible to estimate objectively quantitative characteristics of possible negative impact on sea birds in case this design is realized. For this purpose the background state of avifauna in the off-sea areas during the whole annual cycle is to be found out. Environmental background state (independent on the degree of investigation of the area) should be studied taking into consideration a possibility of large variability of climatic and oceanological conditions typical of the Arctic Seas. This demands carrying out annual ecological surveys during several years. But, at the conduct in the year of 2003 of engineering-ecological investigations on the Stockman gas-condensate deposit, accounts of birds abundance were made only once from the board of the research vessel in the area of the field itself and along the route of the pipe-line whereas for the obtaining of a real picture it would be necessary to investigate the whole eastern part of the Barents Sea applying airplane-laboratory. To solve similar problems when such highly dynamic objects like sea birds are studied, investigations from board the ship are simply absurd. To earn out investigations in such a way is equal to not to carry out them at all.

Lack of the necessary methods for accounting of birds till the end of the 1990s retarded studies on the extra-nesting ecology, seasonal dynamics and birds distribution over the sea area. Development of special method to account birds from the board of heavy airplanes (flying laboratories) allowed to overcome this obstacle (Krasnov, Chernook, 1999; Krasnov et. al. 2004). Observations from the airplane laboratory board in September 1997 allowed to obtain material characterizing sea birds location over the larger area of the Barents sea. There was discovered concentration of guillemot's brooks (adult specimens and fledglings) in the southeastern part of the basin (Krasnov et al. 2002). But for lack of financial means for the large-scale investigations the character of birds location over the eastern part of the Barents Sea during the annual cycle is not quite clear, and seasonal dynamics of abundance is unknown. Such blunder at the realization of the design might turn out fatal for the sea birds.

When the Stockman gas-condensate is being exploited at full scale, there exists the thread of pollution and death of the majority of the Novaya Zemlya Brunnich's guillemot population during the period of spring migrations, hi separate spring seasons the character of ice edge localization might condition passing of the significant number of migrants (including those vulnerable for the hydrocarbon contamination guillemots) to the nesting places on the west coast of the Novaya Zemlya through the area of the supposed route of pipe-line.

Accidental situation connected with the gas-condensate discharge might lead to its accumulation in the near-edge areas and condition contamination and subsequent death of the significant part of the Novaya Zemlya Brunnich's guillemot population.

As a result, in the near future due to the widening of the excavation and transportation of hydrocarbon raw from the large fields in the Barents Sea shelf contamination will be the major thread for the sea birds of the region. The amount and the character of scientific investigations carried out recently, do not allow fully control populations of sea birds including guillemots and provide their protection in the new economic conditions. The attitude of the state structures to the obligations from the CAFF documents might be considered formal. One of the solutions of this situation might be a target financing of similar works by gas and oil companies. But they use, according to the clear reasons, all the possibilities of only formal fulfillment of requirements for the preparation of the environmental impact assessment and try to reduce to minimum their expenditures connected with guarantee of ecological safety of the designs. This attitude will change if the companies' activity developing the marine oil-gas projects will be in the focus of both: nature protection and scientific public and besides, there will exist the system of independent ranging of «ecological profile of the company».

Dukhno G. N. Some problems of the normative-legislative providing the ecological accompany of oil- gas development on Russia shelf // Materials of the XXII conference of young scientists of MMBI (Murmansk, April 2004). Murmansk: MMBI KSC RAS. 2004. P. 30-36. (in Russian)
Krasnov Yu. V., Goryaev Yu. L, Shavykin A. A., Nikolaeva N G, Gavrilo M. V., Chernook V. I. Atlas of the Pechora Sea birds: distribution, abundance, dynamics, protection problems. Apatity: KSC RAS. 2002. 164 pp. (in Russian)
Krasnov Yu. V., Chernook V. L Experience in the application of heavy airplanes (flying laboratories) at the account of the sea birds in the off-sea areas of the Arctic seas// Russian Ornithological Journal. Express-Issue. 1999. № 67. P. 18-23. (in Russian)
Krasnov Yu. V., Chernook V. L, Gavrilo M. V., Shavykin A. A., Tereshchenko V. A. Application of airplanes-laboratories for the marine birds and mammals monitoring on the Arctic seas areas // Zool. Journal. V. 83, N 3. P. 330-341. (in Russian)
Krasnov Yu. V., Goryaev Yu. I., Shavykin A. A., Nikolaeva N G., Gavrilo M. V., Chernook V. I. Atlas of the Pechora Sea birds: distribution, abundance, dynamics, protection problems. Apatity: KSC RAS. 2002. 164 pp. (in Russian)



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