Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Protecting the eider kingdom

Kandalaksha Nature Reserve celebrates its 90th anniversary

7 september 2022

There are more than a hundred nature reserves in Russia, but only less than a quarter of them can boast a respectable age—over 70 years. And the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve, one of the oldest in Russia, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. It owes its creation to a campaign to protect the most valuable northern bird, the common eider. On 7 September 1932, it was formed to preserve the nesting grounds of eiders and became the first marine reserve in the world.

In 1927 and 1929, Alexander Formozov, a postgraduate student at the Institute of Zoology of Moscow State University, and subsequently a well-known zoologist and biogeographer, visited the expeditions to the Barents Sea. His task was not to study eider nests, but Formozov could not ignore their plight. In 1930, the scientist published three publications at once, calling for rare birds to be saved. 'And what is being done all over the north of the country is not understandable at all: why the eider is still being exterminated with impunity by everyone who is not lazy,' the author of the publications was indignant.

The world's warmest eiderdown was needed as the Soviet country made plans to develop the Arctic. So Formozov's call was heard and already in 1930, eider hunting was banned. In 1931, it was decided to organise eiderdown farms, but nobody knew how to breed the birds, what they eat and how they breed. The need to study eiders in their natural environment was one of the reasons for establishing the reserve.

On 29 May 1932, a group of islands at the top of Kandalaksha Bay was declared a sanctuary for waterfowl and forest game. Three months later, on 7 September the same year, by a decree of the CEC of the Karelian ASSR, the reserve was transformed into the Kandalaksha Game Reserve. This date has become the official birthday of the reserve. However, it was only in 1934, when it was transferred to the Karelian Research Institute and its name was changed to Kandalaksha Eider, the scientific work began on the protected area.

A young scientist, Aleksey Romanov, became the first director and sole researcher of the new nature reserve. He had only one rowing boat at his disposal. Nevertheless, as early as his first season, Romanov was able to count and map eider nests on reserve islands, describe the main bird feeding areas, calculate their numbers and organise the collection of down. Thus began the work that would make the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve the centre for eider science in the USSR.

There were many challenges ahead. In 1938, when the Murmansk Region was formed, the Kandalaksha district was also included. The nature reserve was threatened with closure and Romanov had to fight alone to preserve it. The scientist won: on 25 July 1939, the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR decreed that the Kandalaksha Nature Reserve received the status of a state nature reserve; eider hunting, egg and feather collecting and forest felling were banned on its territory. The reserve finally has a full-time research staff and has begun full-scale research.

Over the decades, the area of the reserve has grown dramatically: from 1,094 ha at its creation, it has grown by more than 70 times to 78,608 ha today. In the 1930s, the reserve comprised only about 20 islands and their adjoining ludas, but today there are more than 550 islands in the White and Barents Seas. So now remote areas have to be reached by sea for hours, and some of them can only be reached by helicopter. There are more extensive Russian nature reserves, but it is difficult to find another one so highly fragmented, with areas so far apart from each other. This makes the work of the reserve's staff more difficult, especially as they are facing much greater challenges in the 21st century than before.

The Kandalaksha Nature Reserve was originally created to protect eiders and increase their numbers. Today, its task is to preserve and monitor the entire natural complex of the protected islands where thousands of birds breed: not only eiders but also ducks, gulls, sandpipers, guillemots, razorbills, sea pigeons, kittiwakes, etc. And Kharlov Island is home to Russia's only colony of solans.

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