Kandalakshsa Nature Reserve – Where life abounds

the-beauty-of-the-russian-north-1Photo by Mikhail Grizli

Here in the far north of Russia lies a region that few people live and even fewer visit. The views and vistas here are stunning and captivating at the same time. It’s a land that the Sami people enjoyed up until the 12th century when Russian Pomors discovered the peninsula’s game and fish rookeries which they exploited heavily. It’s a land that was fought over, and it’s resources abused. It was also a strategic stronghold during soviet times of which much has been abandoned since then. It was out of these exploitations that the Kandalaksha State Nature Reserve came into being.

8994429089_92b2569563_zThe first section of Kandalaksha State Nature Reserve was set aside in 1932 to protect nesting colonies of the common eider in the inner corner of Kandalakshsa Bay. The eider’s prized down was collected for centuries and exported mostly to foreign markets. Eider populations suffered heavily, in addition to collecting down from the nests, people collected eggs and often killed the birds. Established first as a game reserve in 1932, the territory was granted federal status and was strictly protected  in 1939. The territory of the reserve began to expand gradually, while protection measures and scientific monitoring became more systematic. In 1940, Veliky Island, a large island covered with boreal forests, was included in the reserve. Then in 1951, islands from the Barents Sea were included along with the Ainovy Islands in the western part of Murmansk Province, and the Seven Islands (Sem ostrovov), the latter having been a separate reserve since 1938. From 1960-1970, some other islands in the Kandalakshsa Bay were granted protection status, as well as mainland territories and adjacent marine ecosystems. New sections were included on the Barents Sea side also during this time.

the-beauty-of-the-russian-north-4Photo by Mikhail Grizli

Today the Kandalaksha State Nature Reserve is spread out over more than 350 islands in Kandalakshsa Bay in the White Sea and the coastal region of the Barents Sea, thus many habitat types are represented. The different habitats that can be found include tundra, boreal forests, meadows, and even swamps.

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The ducks aren’t the only animals to call the reserve their home, many other species birds along with 54 species of mammals refuge here. The islands themselves don’t hold large enough prey for larger predators to take up permanent  residence the occasional brown bear will swim out to the island taking advantage of unwary prey and undiscovered berry patches. The cunning fox will cross newly formed ice in the fall to pounce on imprudent rodents.

pol_liska_2Wolverine, lynx, and wolf are not uncommon, but they generally do not live here permanently. However, two or three bears do live on Veliky Island and the surrounding area. Other predators include pine marten, ermine, weasel, and the acclimated European mink. Their visits depend on populations of various rodents, but never are they many in the reserve. Moose make seasonal migrations to the area, thus their numbers here are constantly changing. Muskrats live in lakes with rich vegetation.

5703484.92085.original.aurora_standalone.prod_affiliate.7The islands of Kandalakshsa Bay and the Barents Sea coast also provide the much needed protection that breeding seals need, they then form rookeries when the ice begins to melt. Kandalaksha Bay is home to the bearded and ringed seals. Several dozen of the large bearded seals linger in shallow waters of Kandalaksha Bay, where they feed on benthic invertebrates. The smaller ringed seals prefer deeper waters where they hunt for fish. The rare gray seal can found in the reserve only in the Barents Sea. Though whales sometimes swim into the coastal waters of the reserve, only the white whale is found in significant numbers up to several dozen can live in Kandalakshsa Bay at any one time, and several hundred in the Barents Sea. Other marine mammal visitors to the reserve are Greenland seal, white-sided and white-beaked dolphins, blue whale,finback whale, bowhead whale, and humpback whale, most of which are rarely seen in the region.

GN5Q6471In more recent times a new species was introduced .It seems some time during the soviet era Yakut horses were brought to the village Chavan’ga. The research that I’ve done hasn’t been able to clarify why they were brought but my guess they provided good transportation in such an isolated area. Like all other good intentions gone bad here this newest addition seems to be holding it’s own.



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