Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Dead sea life washed up on the shore due to unexplained water pollution in Kamchatka region, Russia. Photo: WWF Russia

Did toxic rocket fuel kill sea creatures in Russian ‘ecological disaster’?

  • Greenpeace said activists found yellowish foam on the ocean’s surface and dead sea animals
  • People who got into the waters complained of sore throats, burns to their corneas

Water pollution in Russia’s Kamchatka region that caused sea creatures to wash up dead on beaches prompted fears that rocket fuel stored in the region’s military testing grounds could have leaked out.

The water pollution came to light late last month after local surfers reported stinging eyes and said the water had changed colour and developed an odour. Officials later confirmed the surfers had suffered mild burns to their corneas.

Then locals witnessed large numbers of dead sea creatures including seals, octopuses and sea urchins washed up onto a black-sanded beach popular with tourists.

The regional governor, Vladimir Solodov, said Monday that the sea off the remote Kamchatka peninsula may have been contaminated with toxic chemicals as Greenpeace warned of an “ecological disaster” for marine life.

Dead sea life washed up on the shore. Photo: WWF Russia

Officials have said tests soon after found above-permitted levels of phenol and petroleum products.

Experts were investigating whether this was linked to “spills of some toxic substances”, Solodov said in a statement.

He added that divers had confirmed the deaths of sea creatures and pollution appeared to be spread over a wide area.


Officials are scrambling to come up with the cause after President Vladimir Putin in June reacted angrily to the late reporting of an oil leak in Arctic Siberia that poured thousands of tonnes of diesel into land and waterways.

Russia told residents to stay away from a beach in Kamchatka due to pollution. Photo: Greenpeace Russia

Ecology Minister Dmitry Kobylkin said that Putin had ordered him to get to the bottom of the situation.

The 38-year-old Kamchatka governor vowed on Instagram to lead a “transparent” probe and sack any official who covered up the scale of the pollution.

Massive fuel spill in Russian Arctic could take ‘years’ to clean up

He said there would be checks at two military testing sites, Radygino and Kozelsky, that could be responsible, citing a “yellow film” on a local river.

Some experts have suggested that highly toxic rocket fuel could have leaked into the sea.


The first test site, Radygino, is around 10km from the sea and was used for drills in August.

Vladimir Burkanov, a biologist specialising in seals, in a comment published by Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper suggested that old stores of rocket fuel kept in Radygino could have rusted and the fuel leaked into streams.


The other site, Kozelsky, has been used to bury toxic chemicals and pesticides, according to the governor’s website.

Greenpeace said its team assessing the situation had seen patches of “yellowish foam” and murky water in several areas, with some pollution drifting towards a Unesco-protected area of volcanoes.


The group said it saw dead animals in one area.

Greenpeace said it had contacted state ecological monitors, the armed forces and the Prosecutor General’s Office urging an immediate investigation.

In this Russian city, air pollution is so bad that ‘black skies’ are the norm

Prosecutors and investigators announced they would carry out checks into whether a crime had been committed but have not released any findings.


The pristine peninsula is a popular destination for adventure tourism with its abundance of wildlife and live volcanoes.

The incident came as authorities urged tourists not to visit a live volcano on Kamchatka, warning eruption could be imminent.