On April 7-9 and 21-25, 2022, specialists from the Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology (Irgeli, Kazakhstan) monitored the Zyuydvestovye Shalygi Islands in the Northern Caspian. These islands located in the buffer zone of the Akzhayik State Nature Reserve are potential haul-out sites for Caspian seals. Despite the protection regime of the Zyuydvestovye Shalygi Islands and the adjacent water area, the expedition noted a number of facts confirming the high level of anthropogenic impact on the Caspian seal, the biodiversity of fish and birds in this area of the sea.
On the shalygas, specialists identified 92 locations of fishing gear. In total, about 116 fishing gear were found – abandoned nets (moreover, some of the nets were made of thin monofilaments), bundles of fishing hooks intended for catching sturgeon. In addition to fishing tackle, a lot of plastic bottles were scattered on the islands.
Along the entire coast, the expedition members found 6 corpses and 8 remains of Caspian seals. In addition, 2 dead seals were found in fishing nets in the sea water near the shore.
‘Abandoned fishing nets,’ said Asel Baimukanova, a researcher at the Institute of Hydrobiology and Ecology, ‘are used by black-headed gulls (the species is listed in the Red Book of the Republic of Kazakhstan) and other near-water birds to build nests. This poses a threat to the life of both adult birds and their chicks’.
Based on the results of the expedition, the scientists came to a conclusion that in order to preserve the Caspian seal in this protected area of the Caspian, constant monitoring of potential seal rookeries, cleaning up of the shalygas and the adjacent water area from fishing nets and other marine debris is necessary. It is important to control fishing activities, strengthen the protection and enforcement of borders in the buffer zone of the Akzhaiyk State Nature Reserve.