Scientists say

Svetlana Litvinskaja, Professor, Ph.D. (in biology),Head of the Department of Geo-ecology and Ecosystem Exploitation  at Kuban State University

Excerpt from the speech «On the need for establishing an UTRISHSKY MEDITERRANEAN RESERVE»

Only by establishing the Utrishsky claster-type reserve, by carrying out stationary complex research, by monitoring and making natural resources inventory will it be possible to preserve and restore the Russian Sub-Mediterranean. All economic activities affecting the ecosystem’s integrity must be banned. This part of the Caucasian eco-region, as an acknowledged relict area, is highly important from all points of view: ecological, evolutionary, sozological, and spiritual.

The northwest part of the Black Sea Coast (the Russian Sub-Mediterranean) meets all the criteria for natural heritage, thus justifying its inclusion in the World Heritage List. This must be the only opportunity to preserve the biodiversity of this unique region representing natural, historical and cultural heritage of Russia and the whole world. The Russian Sub-Mediterranean site satisfies all the four criteria specified by the UNESCO requirements for natural heritage: it illustrates the evolution of the Caucasian eco-region during the tertiary era; it comprises rare geological formations; it boasts unique coastal ecosystems, whose aesthetic value is indubitable; it contains habitats of a large number of rare and endangered species; it has its own endemism and it is of great value from the point of view of maintaining the broadest range of biodiversity. Preservation of the Russian Mediterranean Black Sea Coast is impossible without enlisting international support and protection on the part of UNESCO.

Alexander  Drozdov, Professor, Ph.D. (in Geography), leading researcher of the Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences

Exclusively for «Save Utrish»

Why is it so important to establish the Utrish reserve? I will give you some coherent reasons.

1. For Russia and for the whole Mediterranean, for that matter, the Utrish ecosystems — both terrestrial and marine — are extraordinarily significant. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Russia, among others, these systems represent an array of all principal resources (genetic, rare biological species and their habitats).2.  The Homo sapiens’ strategy in his relation to environment is mapped out as follows: at first he singles out the most significant things requiring immediate unconditional preservation; then those that can be used without inflicting irreparable damage to the former ones; then those in need of improvement and restoration.3.  Only Homo sapiens can follow strategic interests.  All other animals — both carnivorous and herbivorous — are unaware of them and respond to their immediate needs. Yet «interests of nature» balance themselves by intricate mechanisms of ecosystems’ self-organization. The basic one being the cyclic fluctuation of the number of those animals that initially feed on too many resources. This results in a sharp reduction in the number of these animals, thereby allowing for  the restoration of resources. Then the number of animals starts growing again, and the cycle repeats itself. But if consumption gets exuberant, all these species are threatened with extinction.4. As a result of selfish actions of certain people, Utrish is reduced to a critical state. The local ecosystems are very sensitive to dysfunctions, and their self-restoration takes very long; the risk of their extinction is extremely high; after all, they are relict, that is, they had been formed long ago and in other conditions.5. The role of Utrish in the preservation of a favorable ecological situation along the extensive coastal stretch is considerable.

6. Preservation of Utrish constitutes Russia’s strategic interest; it cannot be forsaken only to satisfy immediate short-term (and by no means strategic) interests of certain groups of people.

I appeal to the visitors of this site: I suggest that we should join our efforts: those who are willing to persevere in their attempts to defend Utrish against all intruders and those who want to take part in the working out of strategic coast development plans in a broad context. This context must call for the establishment of Special Nature Protected Areas (Natural Reserves), ecologically and economically efficient recreational territories, solid infrastructure etc. It is not enough to establish a reserve in name only.

Unfortunately, it is a hard job to work out such plans; it will require not only our good will, ideas, and knowledge, but also considerable expenses. Such projects may emerge from a series of related degree works, sometimes they are an outcome of efforts made by a small group of volunteers, sometimes they are a product of international cooperation supported by a charity foundation.

As often as not, youth environmental communities prove very active. As is well-known, in 1992, the Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution came into force. Its Secretariat’s seat is in Istanbul. Young men of initiative could find like-minded people in the Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, and act in unison, including applying for support to the Secretariat of the Convention.

Solomon Pereshkolnik, leading zoologist at Moscow Zoo

A story about failed attempts to institutionalize the Utrish reserve

“Wildlife preservation”, No.1, 2004

In August 1987, an article “To preserve a fragment of ancient Pontida” written by Prof. A.A. Inozemtsev and myself was published in the Nature magazine. We had drawn upon our own experience accumulated during the fifteen years’ field work in the area stretching from Gelendzhik to Anapa along the Black Sea coast. We had started equipped with the theoretical works of Dr I.I. Puzanov, a well-known zoogeographer and explorer of these parts. Dr Ivan Ivanovich Puzanov had devoted many years to exploring the Crimea. After analyzing the faunae of land mollusks, he advanced a hypothesis that the southern coast of the Crimea and the northwestern part of the Greater Caucasus had once been part of an ancient land, which he called Pontida, which was later separated. Later, during his exile in the town of Gorky, he continued his research into the avifauna of the Crimea and the Caucasus.

We had also used the materials of Dr O.S. Grebenshchikov, a geo-botanist and expert in the Mediterranean flora. We were greatly impressed by the article, also published in the Nature magazine, by Dr N.I. Rubtsov, the then Director of the Nikitsky Botanical Garden, which was devoted to the areology of certain species of Mediterranean plants.

It was obvious that we had before us a small section of arid-type Mediterranean subtropics, much of which suffered only slightly from human economic activities. The least affected was a small part of a woodland stretching eastward along the coast from the cape of Big Utrish (not far from Anapa) almost to the Tsemessky bay (near Novorossiysk), and inland along the Navagir and Abrau ridges and Amzaj and Koldun mountains. Gardens and vineyards, small recreation facilities, and children’s holiday camps did not do much harm to the environment. Lake Abrau with its vineyards and world famous Abrau-Dyurso wine cellars lies about ten kilometers inland. This slightly protruding stretch of land is called the Abrau Peninsula.

This area boasts a unique collection of principal Mediterranean tertiary relict flora, featuring such endemics as the juniper (juniperus excelsa and foetidissima), the pistachio, and the pinus brutia. The most ancient vegetative association is the pistachio-juniper woodland, where 62.4 % of the species constitute the Mediterranean flora; while in oak and hornbeam forests the proportion of these species amounts to 40.9 %. Only in places where the vegetation has been damaged through economic activities, this proportion is reduced to 29 %.

As to the fauna of this exclave of the Mediterranean, the most noteworthy are invertebrates and reptiles: we spotted the empusa…, earlier encountered only in the Crimea, the saga pedo, the testudo graeca, and Eckulapian racer (registered in the Red Book of the Russian Federation and the IUCN). Among birds that can be found here are the harrier eagle nesting in these parts, the white-tailed sea eagle, the Black Vulture, the Egyptian vulture and the peregrine falcon, as well as a huge variety of migrant species in summer and autumn.

The First National Report of the Russian Federation, “Preservation of biological variety in Russia”, specifies that “… sea coastal areas are distinguished for their flora and fauna… In this respect, the Black Sea coast is second only to the Far East coast”.

Despite its close proximity to the Novorossiysk port and the resort town of Anapa, the water off the coast of the Abrau Peninsula is exceptionally clear. This is caused by the upwelling typical of the Black Sea current flowing here. The water rising towards the surface compensates for the outflow of coastal waters into a convergence zone, and with a sharp drop in the temperature, it replaces, cleans and enriches the shelf waters with deep-sea nutrients. Such a singularity can be accounted for by the highly dynamic physical and biological processes in this part of the Black Sea. The concentration of plankton and benthos being the highest here, the biocoenosis of the shelf and the continental slope of the peninsula is highly efficient. The jack mackerel, the mackerel and the anchovy pass these places when migrating, sometimes staying for a feeding period; bottlenose dolphins also follow this route. One can spot the loon, the dabchick and 80 species of natatorial and semi-aquatic birds that arrive here for the winter or just migrate along the flyway.

Dr A.A. Inozemtsev and I in our article in the Nature arrived at a conclusion that there was an urgent need for establishing a reserve within a national park in the Abrau peninsula, for since the mid-1970s this unique site has shown alarming tendencies towards destruction. Thus far, the Novorossiysk forestry enterprise in charge of the territory has been extremely inefficient in both managing and preserving it, since it largely depends on the overbearing city administration.

In 1989, the Novorossiysk Committee for wildlife management proposed that I should draft an ecological rationale for the two nominal wildlife reserves that were attached to the said forestry enterprise. I received the materials of archeological explorations on the Abrau Peninsula. For many years, under the supervision of the historian Dr A.V. Dmitriev, archeologists had carried out excavations that confirmed the singularity of the area. I managed to rally a small team of experts from Moscow State University, the Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences, specialists from Krasnodar and Novorossiysk; they were eager to tackle the problem and finally came to the conclusion that it was necessary to establish an Utrish reserve.

The Krasnodar regional committee for wildlife management, which had financed this, in today’s parlance, «project», thought better of it, and finally shelved it. Yet I managed to meet N.N. Vorontsov, the Minister of Wildlife Management of the USSR, who was very instrumental in organizing the procedure for establishing a reserve. His assistants arranged for all the necessary documentation (I had had no idea what paths awaited me in the red-tape maze and what hurdles I would have to clear).  The Minister afterwards took a decision to establish a reserve. This documentation together with a draft project was also submitted to the International Union for Conservation of Nature at the UN, since the situation required establishment of a biosphere reserve. Indeed, the matters looked graver by the hour for this ancient site in the Mediterranean. This broken ground with steep hills overgrown with impassable xerophityc subtropical wood, absence of roads, and shortage of fresh water (aquifers lie too deep to reach) had, till the mid-1970s, served as fine protection against economic and recreational digression. Yet, over the span of 1967-87, the Novorossiysk forestry enterprise had leased out to various organizations 538 hectares of forest land, first and foremost, the slopes running down to the sea, with their rich vegetation that is abundant in tertiary relict flora. Construction works on resort facilities and asphalt roads did not take long to start (as often as not, in some barbarous way by carrying out blasting operations and by impounding brooks).

At the same time, steep slopes, richly overgrown with junipers, were subjected to inconsiderate and scientifically ungrounded terracing. During the dry years after 1986, the testudo graeca, previously introduced into this area, had almost died out. There was a practice of replacing the natural vegetation by ornamental trees and shrubs in recreation areas. Settlements and summer cottages sprang up; large areas were taken up by power stations, transformer and pump stations, fresh water containers, catering complexes. Public conveniences, sanitary sewer free, sprang up along the shore in huge numbers. All waste flows either into the springs or into the sea. Forest clearing in low-sloped areas to make room for vineyards results in anthropogenic aridization. The already depleted and weakened unique vegetation is further blighted by phytophagous insects and various diseases. Thus, in 1987-88, the onslaught of Gelechia senticetella  feeding on junipers badly affected an area of 1,000 hectares. If one considers regular forest fires, luckily promptly contained, by the late 1990s there will be little to preserve at all. The hinterland that still has natural woods is reserved by the local administration for hunting, while the local population goes poaching for martens, hares, foxes, and other game.

I had to engage in long and frequently useless negotiations with the local authorities, ranging from the forestry enterprise to high-ranking officials of Krasnodar Region. According to the then environmental legislation, without their consent, not a single spot of land under their jurisdiction could be set aside. Interests of these people clashed with the interests of – I may just as well say – the State. The henchmen and upstarts in the Krasnodar regional Committee headed by the First Secretary Medvedev (under whose supervision the estuary and the delta of the Kuban were utterly destroyed, while huge spaces of the region were buried in insecticides and chemical fertilizers) regarded the idea of establishing a reserve as something outlandish. They succeeded in instilling a negative attitude to wildlife preservation in the local population. After all, to survive, the inhabitant of this flourishing territory had to rent out their homes and backyards to holiday-makers.

Meanwhile, on the southern coast of the Crimea, the then republican authorities of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had already realised how harmful ruthless exploitation of natural sites resembling those of the northwest coast of the Caucasus could be, and established a number of small reserves, namely, Cape Martyan, Yalta sites (1973), and Karadag (1983). Thus, within the Soviet Union there already were reserves of arid-type subtropics of the Mediterranean.

Everything changed after August 1991. Russia, though adhering to a general zonal principle of establishing reserves, lacked such one in the arid-type Mediterranean subtropical zone. It seemed proper to have the gap filled up. Moreover, the incumbent Krasnodar and Novorossiysk authorities, responding to the exertions of the local public and the mass media, changed their attitude to environmental problems. I had an appointment with V.I. Danilov-Danilyan, Minister of Nature Conservation of the Russian Federation, who, in my presence, ordered that the necessary documentation for establishing the reserve should be prepared. It was back in 1993. The process stalled owing to financial difficulties and the inertia inherent in the ministry. Ill-will or red-tape, it hampered the implementation of the minister’s decision.

The initiative to establish a reserve received a wide support, both in words and deeds, from members of various academies: Dr V.E. Sokolov, Dr E.E. Syroechkovsky, Dr I.S. Darevsky, and Professor A. A. Inozemtsev. Professor N.N. Drozdov, both the adviser to the UN Secretary General for nature preservation and a popular exponent of science, was very helpful. Dr L.M. Muhametov, the founder and head of the Utrish biological research station at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, had played a special role in this business. Without his help, neither field works, nor the solutions to many administrative problems would have come to pass. The author expresses his sincere gratitude and appreciation to all of them.

The plan and the blueprint of the reserve establishment, elaborated by Dr O.A. Leonteva, a researcher at the biogeography department of Moscow State University, and myself, was presented at the international conference on wildlife management of the Mediterranean (MEDCOAST-93); and two years later, at MEDCOAST-95, we published a description of rare animals of the Abrau Peninsula. The first publication already featured a map of the would-be reserve with the zoning of its territory. Thanks to the help from L. Williams and V. Krever, officials of the WWF Russia, the information about the need for establishing an Utrish reserve was incorporated into “Conserving Russia’s Biological Diversity: An Analytical Framework and Initial Investment Portfolio (Washington, D.C. 1994)”. The much needed support was also given by the ISAR Russia, with L. Bogdan as its Head, for which the author is thankful.

Finally, the babble about sustainable development had enabled Dr I.A. Kharitonov, head of Krasnodar branch of the All-Russian Research Institute of Nature, and myself to present the project of the would-be reserve as a basis for the region’s prosperity, where nature protection activities are to be combined with tourism and recreation development, as well as traditional industries (wine growing and winemaking, fruit growing, etc.). This version was submitted to the permanent organization of Black Sea Zone countries. Our project was acknowledged as one of the best (“The ICZM Plan for the Utrish area of Krasnodar region. The ICZM pilot project proposal. GEF Black Sea Environmental Programme. Annual report, 1996”). Yet, nothing happened. And the trouble was brewing…

And then in the middle of perestroika, enters the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) and stretches a hand of succour to the fidgeting coast whose wildlife and population are bogged down in squalour. Then and there, it ruled that an oil pipeline was to be built to connect Russia with Kazakhstan. The consortium promised the moon and the starrs, and, by the way, it appropriated $30,000,000 for nature protection needs. That was when the WWF Russia, and all other minor foundations for that matter, should have woken up to this life, yet, as I. Chestin, Director of WWF Russia, imparted to me, off the record, that “they, in the Caucasus, had different priorities”. The Novorossiysk Mayor, having received some money, did set up a wildlife proservation foundation. According to the Izvestia, a criminal case was initiated, since nobody had ever seen the money. The committee of wildlife management of the Russian Federation and the Krasnodar regional committee of wildlife management took a tough line on the pipeline construction, referring among other things to the project for establishing the Utrish reserve. I have documents to confirm this. Thus, the letter from GosKomEcologia (State Ecological Committee of the Russian Federation) to the Council of Ministers unequivocally specified that the pipeline construction could upset the natural balance on the coast and impede the procedure of institutionalizing the reserve. There was big money behind it, and by and by all the expert commissions (I took part in two) passed – in fact, navigated – the CPC project regardless its gross shortcomings, which were further to be corrected or removed. Where were, then, our “highly professional” non-governmental organizations? Which one, leaning on substantial authority and pocketing handsome money, suggested that the matter should be brought to a court of law? Only the local environmental groups and the population that lived on the oil route were still fighting a losing battle with the CPC and its arrangements. Naturally, they stood not a chance. The International consortium, supported by local authorities, instead of remedying the situation and engaging in nature preservation, kept on promising a never-never land to the population. It bought out invaluable vineyards for a song and sent the former machine operators and hereditary wine-growers packing; the grand construction works offered job-openings of a laundress, dishwasher, and other “highly-qualified” positions of the kind 1.

Meanwhile, after assessing the biota damage inflicted during the construction works on the 8-kilometre long road leading to the sea across the Mediterranean wood, Professor S.A. Litvinskaja, Kuban State University, and myself estimated it at 5.5 million dollars. The calculation was made on the basis of the current official documents approved by GosKomEcologia. I managed to take the floor at the MEDCOAST-99 with a detailed analysis of the recent developments carried out jointly by Prof. A.A. Inozemtsev (also a member of the state expert commissions) and myself. Unfortunately, the international experts familiar with the problem had by this time already retired.

GosKomEcologia was compelled to incorporate the issue of the Utrish reserve into the Plan to be completed by 2000. So, in 1998, A.V. Maksimuk, Head of the Central Survey Expedition at the State Department of TsentrOkhotKontrol, and myself set out on the land allocation tour. By that time, the Krasnodar committee for wildlife management and the administration of Anapa had defined their position on the issue, and they took an active part in coordinating the land allocation project. The administration of Novorossiysk, on the contrary, showed a complete lack of concern about the project and refused to take part in the land allocation (it was far more interested in the CPC pipeline, since this project had been already bringing money, no oil, thank you). As a result, the territory of the would-be reserve was confined to an area of 2,960 hectares of main land coupled with 4,712 hectares of protective zone. The first step is half the battle, or so it seemed.

Dr V.B. Stepanitsky, head of our conservancy system, thought and acted differently. For reasons unknown to me, he was far more interested in the organization of the Erzi reserve in Ingushetia, the latest (in fact, the 100th reserve), the establishment of which could hardly play a crucial role in the preservation of flora and fauna in the North Caucasus. I failed to find this reserve on the list of the 67 planned national parks (the newsletter No.3 of the GEF project “Biodiversity preservation in the Russian Federation”), while the Utrish reserve is listed as No.53, (p. 78). This way or another, the process of establishing the reserve came to a stop again 2.

In 1998, I published an article “The current state and the future of the environment of the Russian Mediterranean” in the interuniversity collection, where I compared protected territories of arid-type subtropics on the Ukrainian southern coast of the Crimea (SCC) with those in the Russian (Russian Federations): SCC: the total area of 321 sq. km; the 4 SPNA (Specially Protected Natural Areas) taking up 32 % of this area; the Russian Federation: the total area of arid-type subtropics of 2,000 sq. km, no SPNA. The article said that the arid-type subtropics of Russia are an ecologically delicate zone, within which the rate of anthropogenic infringements considerably exceeds that of natural self-restoration of a cenosis (ecosystem). The conclusion that followed was that only a systems approach to SPNA establishment can prevent the region from sliding into the ecological disaster zone.

In the wildest of my dreams could I have imagined how tragic it would be in reality. The situation could not have been worse. In the summer of 2002, tornadoes hit the Abrau Peninsula, causing utter destruction and huge loss of life. Of course, it is the elements, but with the woodland depleted and the storage dam in a state of 20-year-old disrepair, the magnitude of the disaster swelled. Loose earth flows, roaring streams of water and mud swept away constructions, overturned and carried away cars and buses into the sea. They marred up the banks of the remarkable Lake Abrau, destroyed the elite vineyards in Valley Dyurso. The most terrible blow of the tornado fell onto the spot where, 30 years back, we had begun our research (the vicinity of the notorious Shirokaya Balka); it is a place where a rapid stream of clear water used to wind its way under the shadows of the once subtropical wood. The tornado took its greatest toll here, since the constructions on the slopes of this gorge had completely superseded the woods, and the roads, built with complete disregard of any sanitary and safety norms, constituted a perfect outlet for roaring streams.

It is difficult to imagine what the consequences would have been if the tornado had hit the oil pipeline and the huge oil catch-basement overhanging the Ozereyka river. In the lower reach, the houses hitherto belonging to the dishwashers and watchmen, now made redundant by the CPC, were flooded.

The Utrish reserve was never institutionalized. But the administration of Anapa, together with the so-called Cossacks, set up turnpikes at the putative border. Cossacks collect tolls from every walking and driving ‘entity’. The administration of Novorossiysk continues allotting invaluable seaside lands to private owners. Wildlife suffers from hordes of tourists and holidaymakers. Littered and broken, the forest dries up, occasionally catching fire; fresh water, so precious here, trickles out of boreholes 3.

Putative well-meaning officials from the State Nature Protection institutions and public organizations who spin intrigues and make Byzantine moves do not realize that they will be consigned to oblivion likewise those mischievous schoolchildren who fail to stand up to a task. Generations of scientists who dedicated their lives to finer ends, who never sought after snug stations and foreign grants, who fought not with their own shadows but with the orgy of Gulag, only they will make history. So I devote this work to Dr Ivan Ivanovich Puzanov, a splendid naturalist and bio-geographer, who had excelled his foreign colleagues, a brilliant erudite and poet, and an uncompromising fighter with Lysenkoism.


  1. The volume (of over 30 Mtpa) of raw oil boosted currently via the pipeline is about to be doubled. Yet the environmentalists were barred entrance to the public hearings on the resolution of ecological issues. (back)
  2. To my knowledge, the Erzy reserve exists only in name, yet, as is common, it is staffed with a director, an accountant, and a cashier. Mr. Stepanitsky again poses obstacles, this time defying the ecological rationale of the WWF project to establish an Utrish reserve, the one already approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources to be launched in the year 2010. (back)
  3. And now it is the Krasnodar forest management, together with its powerful and economically interested “protectors”, that covets the territories assigned to the nature reserve. The Russian ecological community is struggling heroically in the attempt to save the remains of the nature reserve area. (back)

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