The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Primorie Pearl

FORBIDDEN PRIMORIE

It has always been difficult to get on Gamov peninsula. Remoteness from the main routes, impassability, border proximity and presence of secret military units has made it one of the most closed areas of Southern Primorie Territory. Almost 30 years ago the part of this territory was a part of a unique sea reserve in Russia which protects coast, island and adjoining water area.



THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

He was laconic, serious and as it seemed to me, overmuch severe. “Aye”, — I thought, "people of this kind do not contact willingly, and I will have to drag information by ticks. hat was my first impression of acquaintance to Vadim Pererva — chief security officer of the Far Easter State Sea Reserve. Yet in Vladivostok, director of FESSR warned, that if I would manage to get him to talk, I would dig out information for not a single article. Indeed Pererva has been in reserve for four years. Each poacher knows him there. If he goes to patrol, than it is done. Easy all. Yet in Moscow in editors’ office of the magazine, while discussing the future trip to the reserve, we tried to designate frameworks of the future story. Many questions arose: how to show work of inspectors, whether we will be lucky with the weather? And certainly we did not assume that we would have to participate directly in detention of poachers. But reporter’s fate was favourable.

First time I happened to be on Gamov peninsula absolutely casually 14 years ago, being the student-biologist of the second course in the Moscow State University. In the beginning of 1991 Vladivostok was officially opened for free visiting, and in May of the same year I arrived to Vladivostok, “Soviet Los-Angeles”, as it was called that times, for summer training to the Institute of Sea Biology of the Far Eastern Department of Russian Academy of Science. There I learned about existence of Far Eastern State Sea Reserve, or FESSR, in one of the most closed areas of the southern Primorie Territory. I was warned from the very beginning, that it was practically impossible to get there and a maximum I could count on was summer educational base of biology-soil faculty of the Far Eastern State University in Slavyanskiy Gulf. But, thanks to a caravan of casual events, unexpected acquaintances and improbable coincidence of circumstances, I nevertheless got to FESSR, and moreover, in the very heart of it — on a security cordon of the eastern site, that was in “Rescue” Bay, and spent there almost 4 months. Then the reserve captivated me by its beauty and acquainted with unique community of animals and plants.

The next summer I returned to these places again and spent there my entire student’s practice, which was finished by the course work on ecology of an ordinary larga-seal. Once before the next departure to the security cordon, I came into the Institute of Sea Biology. There was lunch time, and in an institute dining room I sat down at a table to a man of 60 years, in glasses. We got into a rap with him and he asked where I had come from and what I was doing. I told about the course work in the sea reserve excitedly. My interlocutor was listening carefully, smiling and only occasionally inserted some catchwords. Saying goodbye, he offered his hand and introduced himself — Alexey Viktorovich.

The supervisor of studies who had joined us explained me soon, that the person to whom I was so hotly telling about Sea Reserve, was none other than its founder academician A. V. Zhirmunsky — the person united efforts of the Academy of Science of the USSR and Navy of the country and embodied FESSR plan into a life.

FOR INFORMATION
The Far Eastern State Sea Reserve was created on March, 24th, 1978. It is the unique sea reserve out of 93 natural reserves existing in Russia today. It is the standard of comparison of the seaside nature, islands and shelf of the Primorie Territory. It is paradise for photographers-naturalists, for amateurs to see corners of our planet yet untouched by the civilization. The freakish relief of the underwater rocks, natural grottoes, sandy banks, failures up to forty meters depth — all this is grouped with crystal-clear water up to 12–16 meters of depth. The total area of the reserve is over 64 thousand hectares — it is about 10 % of all area of Peter the Great Bay. The reserve consists of four sites — northern, southern, eastern and western.

Islands occupy 2% of the reserve area. There are 11 islands and islets in the reserve. The largest of them is Big Pelis of 380 hectares. The total area of islands is 1100 hectares. On islands you can see rocks, sandy beaches, subtropical woods, steppes, bogs, stale streams and stale lakes. Here there are colonies of sea birds and almost 900 kinds of plants. Only in the reserve rookeries and “maternity hospitals” of bay seals are still kept, which have almost completely disappeared earlier in the southern Primorie Territory. The most numerous populations of these animals lives in the reserve across all Peter the Great Bay.

About 360 kinds of birds, 80 of which nest, are registered on the islands. There is no such variety anywhere in Russia, even in Volga delta! In the reserve there are Japanese and Daur cranes, black vulture, see white-rudder eagle, golden eagle and peregrine falcon. All these birds are listed in the International Red book and in the National Red books. Colonies of sea birds on island Furughelma are especially beautiful and numerous. Here there are the largest of nowadays known in the world colonies of the Japanese cormorant and black-rudder seagull. Sea colonial birds alone here gather in amounts of up to 100 thousand zooids.

Uniqueness of the reserve is also in meeting of two streams in its waters — cold Primorskoe, bringing with itself representatives of sea fauna of the cold seas and warm Zusimskoe which brings tropical sea animals. Here in different years representatives of tropical fauna — sword-fish, tuna, a bi-coloured flounder and tiger shark have been caught. There are sea snakes. Black killer whale and dolphins-dolphins come into waters of the reserve. On depth during spring and autumn time it is possible to meet octopuses. On a sandy ground you can see dark red, grey flat and heart-shaped sea hedgehogs, bright starfishes.

And a bit more about uniqueness. Yellow-nib heron nests on reserved islands. This is very rare bird. All over the world there remain hardly more than 600 zooids. And 40 out of them have chosen FESSR.

COMPLETE CONSERVANCY TERRITORY

All these years the forbidden territory of the Primorie Territory was luring, and I decided by any means to visit these places where while being the student I spent two unforgettable surveying seasons. After coordination with the local services, I got approval for a trip, and in May, 2005 I flied to Vladivostok. There my former supervisor of studies and now friend Sergey Jakovlev joined me.

In the morning of May, 17th we stood at the 44th berth of the Academy of Science in the Gold Horn Bay where the diving road boat “Attentive” belonging to the Sea Reserve, was waiting. We shipped cylinders with gas for inspectors being on duty on cordons, waited for someone from a science. Vessel forage was gradually filled with boxes, cases and God knows what else.

The “Attentive” slowly sailed of berth’s wall and laid a course for the south. We left behind islands Russian and Popova, Amur bay. The city on hills turned to a narrow strip of land between the sea and the grey sky. Seagulls immediately fell in the boat, catching streams of a head wind, but, having seen, that we were not fishermen, and there was no easy pickings, soon disappeared in the damp air. The “Attentive” tore the rests of the morning fog. Ahead was Peter the Great Bay and the terminal point of our route — the main security cordon of the eastern site of the reserve — Rescue Bay. Already wherefrom, on boats together with inspectors of protection, we will make raids to the most remote corners of territory and on island Furughelma if the weather allows.

— If it is sunny — we’re lucky. — Director of reserve Andrey Malyutin warned. — If a typhoon covers, then you just have to stay all the week in a house. This year is very unpredictable concerning the weather.

Until 1991 it was difficult to visit the Far Eastern Sea Reserve, especially its eastern site. This place was called “zero zone”. Even scientific researches were allowed under special permission only. While Vladivostok remained the closed city, the territory of the reserve was considered as the border zone. The coastal line of “zero zone” from cape of the Lion up to Telyakovsky Bay was larded by military units of all sorts, from radar intelligence collection and to long-range artillery batteries. Today only abandoned concrete pillboxes, walls of the uninhabited barracks, the disassembled artillery installations with untouched system of underground communications remained from powerful coastal fortifications. There remain only a few dozens of militaries carrying the service here. Some from former officers have started tourist business, showing the local beauty to visitors.

In the Knight Bay, that is 4 km to the west from the Rescue bay, on the opposite side of Gamov peninsula, was one of the most secret objects — Military-science centre of studying sea mammals and their possible use maritime operations. Dolphins, eared seals and sea bears were trained for struggle against underwater swimmers and saboteurs, taught to destroy enemy submarines and ships; to search for parts of rockets fallen in the sea. On the basis of the results of researches scientists wrote not single dissertation. But in the beginning of 1990-ies such programs lost financing, researches were scaled down and animals were released. Only white dome-sphere above empty open-air cages and half-destroyed hulls of vessels-hunters remained from the centre of science in the Knight Bay. Second ten years they stand alone on the coast. Now it is the local sightseeing.

However, long isolation of the territory from other world has brought more benefits, having kept it in wild state, untouched by people. In the reserve there is unreal silence alien to city dwellers. Only presence of inspectors of protection gives out weak similarity of civilization.

The boat arrived to the Rescue Bay, and we descended on coast. Near to the coast, the red metal tablet is driven in: "FESSR. Access is forbidden ".

— If you need something, give a radiogram, — Andrey Malyutin shouted from the sailing “Attentive”, — inspectors will help you.

Everything is so familiar on the cordon. There is the same two-storeyed wooden house consisting of several rooms for inspectors of protection, a room for radio communication, kitchens and pair of guest rooms. Nearby a small bath, diesel house and some metal hangars for different equipment. The house smells as dampness and tree inside. We are met by two inspectors of protection and already elderly carpenter. After some formalities we, at last, have settled down in one of the guest rooms on the second floor of the house.

As soon as noise of engines of “Attentive” dissolves in the sea, it becomes deathly silent. It has appeared that there is no light on the cordon — the diesel generator has failed. Storm warning has been transmitted by radio.

AT THE EGDE OF THE DEAR LAND

After several days of stay on the eastern site, we go to the southern site of the reserve, on island Furughelma, well known and the last Russian island before border with Korea. On the occasion, we decide to bypass some picturesque bays and to make photographing from the sea. Alexander Ratnikov, famous in the Primorie Territory underwater photographer and naturalist, made the company to us. Early in the morning on the motor boat of protection forces we headed for the south. On the way Ratnikov explains, that May — beginning of June is the season of sea birds nesting — cormorants and seagulls. There is an ocean of them. It is also possible to meet locules of grey herons and probably with already fledgy nestlings on the island at this time of the year. If weather allows, it will be possible to go to “Michelson’s Stones” — a small reef in half a kilometer from the island. There it is possible to observe closely a small colony of an ordinary larga-seal.

In little more than an hour we approach to Furughelma island and land in the western bay. Already at the approach I pay attention to white moving mass on hills and rocks near to the coastal line. These are colonies of black-tail seagulls which occupy practically the whole island. From time to time all this mass flies up, waves and for some time soars in an air, catching impulses of a wind. Extreme bird’s bedlam is heard above the island. Almost at the water top circles of rocks were chosen by ordinary and Japanese cormorants. These birds twist locules in remote places, above abrupt cliffs. It will not be an east task to get at them. We are lucky with the weather — bright sun and rare high clouds.

We unload quickly, take the equipment and rise on a hill, whence we can observe vicinities. Along a narrow footpath, which sweeps away up wearily and obstinately, there come across low bush with big pink flowers. This is “Shlippenbach Rhododendron”. There is extraordinary plenty of it on this island. Wild cherries blossom on abrupt slopes. Its gentle-pink flowers make contrast on a background of bright-turquoise sea.

Already near to the very top empty seagulls eggs start to come across. It means that the colony is absolutely very close. Our unexpected occurrence was met by an improbable bird’s panic, shouts and massive air attacks. In a minute our equipment was entirely covered by white spots — we were uninvited guest. Directly on the ground, between stalks of dry last year’s grass there came across small poles-locules with eggs of black-tail seagulls. Moving ahead through the bird’s colony to the edge of the cliff we tried not to tread on these small seagulls homes. At the very edge of the cliff, the colony of cormorants begins on the rocks. Already from apart we notice, that there are nestlings in locules already. As a rule, there are 2–3 of them in each locule. Here and there, nestling in locules are still absolutely naked. In others they are already with good dense floccus. When we approach a locule, nestlings start to shout loudly, and rush furiously on the camera lens. Apparently it is not welcome reception. Female, as a rule, hatch a locule, spitting up food gruel from time to time, and feeding the nestlings from the craw. To onlookers this process looks very amusing. I make the discovery — in a telephoto lens it is visible that cormorants have bright-turquoise eyes.

In some time of our stay in birds society, seagulls and cormorants calm down, take seats on the locules. Seagulls come nearer on distance of the extended hand, probably, perceiving us as neighbours on a perch. In a few meters from us the couple pf seagulls make love, not paying any attention to us. Life in the colony runs in a groove. Shootings proceed. So the rest of day goes by.

Grey morning. Words from of old Russian romance creep into my head “Morning foggy, morning gray-haired…”. One thing pleases — the sea is almost dead calm, that means we can approach on the motor boat to the opposite side of the island, to rocks where we noticed yesterday a few adult grey herons. There is a chance to find their locules.

Already from the coast we mention a few locules, on rocky ledges, near to the water. There is some kind of movement in locules. Adult herons notice us earlier and hasty leave the nestlings. The last remain face to face with the camera. For them we are the huge monsters who have come from not clearly whence to their bird’s world. Having opened yellow eyes wide, having dismissed cops, aggressively clicking and widely opening beaks, the nestlings rush on the camera lens, poking to the lens and try to make a terrible look. But to onlookers it all appears gunny and clumsily. In a few minutes they calm down and peacefully start to absorb a fish carefully left by parents in locules. We are not so interesting to them. And we also have decided not to tempt hospitality any more. While it is dead calm we shall try to land on “Michelson’ stones” and to observe seals. Ratnikov leaves me on small stony spit where tens of seal were basking on a rare sun just a few minutes ago. I prepare the equipment and choose a big stone, in the center of a reef. Wherefrom I can overlook all the space — it is the ideal place for shootings. Not moving, I am laying on the stones for the second hour in a row. Having felt that there is no danger, some young seals get out on stones, in immediate proximity from me. As if on purpose, they pose before camera lens just as kids, opening black eyes wide, loudly sniffing and wallowing. I try not to make any sharp movements. This improvised mini-performance lasted for half an hour.

Evening twilight bring with themselves cold wind and thin rain. We come back to the cordon and discuss day time shooting at supper. Night falls on the island. Bird’s shouts calm down.



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Acknowlegements:
Special thanks to designers Dmitry and Vladimir Jakovlev for professionalism and original creative decisions;
to translator Irina Kharakterova for qualified texts translation.