The Worlds’ only Desert Above the Artic Circle – In Russia


The Results of Over Fishing

In what once was the hunting grounds of the Nenets the town of Shoyna became a seaport that supported a thriving fishing fleet during soviet times. This once quaint village is located on the coast of the White Sea in the Arkhangelsk Oblast region. The abundance of fish and other sea life led this tiny port to being an important asset to Soviet Russia. The landscapes of the natural surroundings were quite beautiful and rich with wildlife. The natural diversity of the Sea at this time was very high. Today it’s inhabited by about 60 species of fish, including Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon (more recently introduced by humans), cod, navaga, herring, plaice, etc. In summer, Atlantic and Pacific Salmons swim up the rivers of the Kola Peninsula and Karelia to spawn. But all this changed in the early 1930’s when the fishing industry began to rape the sea and it’s benthic zone (sea bottom).


A once Beautiful land Gone

In its heyday the abundance of fish and sea life led to prosperity within the collective farm that was organized here, and by the 1950s some 1,500 persons lived in Shoyna with a fishing fleet numbering more than seventy vessels. None of the fishing vessels remain, the only thing left are rotting out remains of the ghostly hulls of this once fledgling fleet. What led to its demise was the reckless trawling that led to the utter annihilation of the benthic life, which decimated the fishery. The results of this can be seen in the creeping sand dunes that have envolped the remaining homes of this tiny community. Thus a desert was born out of the greed of man.

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So How did this Happen – The Retribution of Sand

Here is an excerpt from the project ‘Shoyna Dissected-Chests of Sand’ by Jan Gunnar Skjeldsøy, a Norwegian architect interested in looking at “the edges, the untold and the loss of Nature” when conducting research for his work:

A tide was coming ashore, but this time it was not water. It was sand. And if you want to indulge in a sense of drama, it was the sand of retribution. Years of misalignment between local fishing practices and the marine ecosystem they harvested, had scraped the ocean floors clean of their marine lifeforms and their intricate systems of checks and balances that had held these submerged sandy steppes in equilibrium through untold seasonal cycles. Now the ocean floor began coming ashore. It began piling up against homes. Shoyna began sinking.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1990s, though, that this ominous trickle transformed into a flood. In the 90s the sand began to come in waves that could literally submerge a house in the span of a single night. The arrival of these devastating waves coincided with the advent of Perestroika and Shoyna’s subsequent loss of the political and organizational systems that had sustained the township so far. To the inhabitants of this remote hamlet, it must have seemed like the end of days.”

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 So What’s the Answer? A look at the Future.

In many of the articles that showed the plight of Shoyna none of them explored the future and what it may hold. I’m not going to try to attempt to say that it can be saved, that would be futile. What has taken place is that in 2007 with the help of the World Wildlife Fund a new nature reserve was established. The new 243,000-hectare nature reserve will help protect threatened arctic species such as polar bears, Atlantic walrus, white-beak loon, and one of the region’s largest mass nesting of waterfowl. Under its current protection there is hope that these areas can once again become estuaries that will secure and preserve the future health of its environment. It may not completely curtail environmental encroachment but it’s a good start. The following video share about Shoyna, enjoy.





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