Lake Baikal

”Chersky, the only glacier in this area had a width of 1,200 metres and was 75 metres thick in 1996. In just over 10 years it is half the width and has lost 10 metres in thickness,” explains a well built aged man with eyes the colour of Lake Baikal itself. Mikhail Moskin lives in the town Severobaykalsk on the north shores of Lake Baikal. Now working as a teacher in a local school for ecotourism, he has lived here all his life. As a young man in Soviet Russia he worked building the railway that leads from Chara down to Baikal, now he is the local ecological expert. During regular treks into the wild with his students he has witnessed changes in the environment around the lake he has worked so closely to for over 50 years.

“”The biggest worry is the algae in the lake. If the blue green algae increase they poses serious problems for all dependent on this freshwater eco system, including the hundreds of endemic species.” says Mikhail Moskin.

Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world containing roughly 20 percent of the planets surface fresh water. Despite it's tropical crystal clear appearances in the summer the water remains icy cold and in the winter the surface completely freezes to sustain heavy trucks crossing it. The lake has an outstanding level of biodiversity, home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. One of only three species of fresh water seal live here among many other unique species making Baikal invaluable for the study of evolutionary science. For these reasons Lake Baikal has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. But this rare and ecologically sensitive area is under threat not only from from climate change but also from economic exploitation and contamination.

Pollution from Baikalsk Pulp and paper mill is slowly accumulating in the lake and since the beginning of the 1990s Baikal’s seal population has decreased by about one third. Between 1966 and 2008 the paper mill used chlorine in its production and discharged its hazardous waste water into the 25 million year old lake. After protests from Greenpeace and other environmental organisations the industry had to stop their production in 2008, announcing that it couldn’t bring profit without polluting the area. But in January 2010 Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a resolution that is allowing the mill to discharge waste into Lake Baikal without any restrictions. The controversial and incomprehensible resolution allows the company to store, recycle and burn any waste on the shores.

A couple of years ago the Russian government planned to construct an oil pipe line on the shores of Lake Baikal, but after protests from environmental groups, experts and locals the location was moved. One of the protestors was local Mikhail Moskin. “They had already started to clear forest for the pipeline so that was a huge victory for environmentalists when they finally changed the first placement," he says.

High up on the rocks looking north over lake Baikal prayer flags blow in the wind. In 1996 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee gave Lake Baikal the status of World Heritage site based on it's natural uniqueness. Because of the lake's unique location it has been heralded as the 'Galapagos' of Russia boasting endemic flora and fauna of extreme value to evolutionary science.

Blowing in the WindPrayer flagsLargest reservoirSnow meltSacred placeFlowers by the lakeThe view northView from OlkhonThe 'Pearl of Siberia'FishingDeepest in the worldSunset over BaikalEcologistsKholodnayaPreparing the fishHot springSummer meltUnique speciesProposed pipe routeChat about CharaСеверобайкальск station