State Duma of Russia: Proposals for the Caspian Seal Conservation

On May 20, 2024, a meeting of the working group of the Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection was held in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, dedicated to the development of proposals for the improvement of the Caspian Basin.

The event was attended by deputies, representatives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Department for State Policy and Regulation in the Sphere of Development of Specially Protected Natural Areas of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia, Information and Analytical Center for Support of Nature Reserves of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia, Interdepartmental Commission for Caspian Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, VNIRO, VCB VNIRO (“CaspNIRKH”), Dagestan State University, Federal Agency for Fishery, Compass Foundation for Support and Development of Environmental Initiatives, National Scientific Center for Marine Biology named after A.V. Zhirmunsky FEB RAS, Digital Subsoil Use ANO, the Institute of Water Problems RAS, and other organisations.

D.N. Kobylkin – Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. The working group meeting to develop proposals for the improvement of the Caspian Basin, the State Duma of Russia, May 20, 2024.

In his opening remarks, D.N. Kobylkin, Chairman of the State Duma Committee of the Russian Federation on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, noted, ‘The topic of preserving the Caspian Sea is global, includes the need for monitoring, researches, ecological and fishery activities, the development of an action plan for the conservation of ecosystems, as well as the implementation of the Tehran Convention provisions. The main challenges faced by the Caspian countries are the Caspian Sea shallowing, pollution as a result of mining and with industrial and domestic wastewater, increased transport operations, and reductions in biological resources.’

I.Yu. Makhanova, Director of Department for State Policy and Regulation in the Sphere of Development of Protected Areas, the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia. The working group meeting to develop proposals for the improvement of the Caspian Basin. The State Duma Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, May 20, 2024.

Particular attention was paid to the second topic “On the current status of the Caspian seal and proposals for its conservation.”

Participants discussed a significant reduction in the total population abundance throughout the Caspian Sea, compared to the beginning of the 20th Century. Researches carried out by DSU with the support of Compass Foundation in 2022-2023 in the Russian sector of the Caspian Sea, showed an extremely low density of Caspian seals distribution in seasonal feeding areas, and a complete absence on island haul-outs in spring-autumn periods.

A.A. Gadzhiev, vice-rector for scientific and innovative work, DSU, reported on a negative trend “an increase in the mortality of Caspian seals, which constitute the population reproductive core.” According to DGU, the average age of dead animals stranded on the Dagestan coast in December 2022, and in other events of mass mortality, ranged from 7 to 12 years. That poses an obvious threat to the Caspian seal population ability to reproduce.

The poor status of the population and its habitat are evidenced by events of mass mortality of seals, which have become regular in the last decade. Reasons for most of them have not been established. The largest stranding of dead seals (after the 2000 epizootic) occurred at the end of 2022. Hundreds of dead seals were registered on the Kazakhstani coast, and dozens – in Azerbaijan, about 10 thousand seals – in Dagestan, Russia. According to DGU estimates, the total number of dead marine mammals throughout the Caspian could be about 30 thousand. The key version of the 2022 mass mortality is still considered to be infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Threats for the population are habitat degradation, sea level fluctuations, climate warming, which causes a reduction in ice fields suitable for seal breeding, death of animals in fishing gear, and habitat pollution. Long-term exposure to pollutants leads to a decrease in population immunity and the general body resistance, which contributes to increased susceptibility to various parasitic, infectious and other diseases.

A.A. Gadzhiev, Vice-rector for scientific and innovative work at DSU, and T.V. Kovaleva, Director of Compass Foundation for Support and Development of Environmental Initiatives. The working group meeting to develop proposals for the improvement of the Caspian Basin. The State Duma Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, May 20, 2024.

At the meeting of the State Duma Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, it was proposed:

– Recognize the Caspian seal as endangered and discuss the possibility of changing its current rarity category to 1 and conservation status to “Priority I” of conservation measures in the Red Book of Russia, which will make it possible to create a strategy for the species conservation in the form of a regulatory document and plans for its restoration.

The Caspian seal, endemic to the Caspian, is protected by all Caspian countries, recognized as Endangered in Azerbaijan and Iran, and has the status of Critically Endangered in Turkmenistan.

Note:
The Caspian seal is endemic to the Caspian Sea, protected by all Caspian countries. It is recognized as an endangered species in Azerbaijan and Iran, rare and endangered – in Kazakhstan,  critically endangered – in Turkmenistan.
In 2020, the Caspian seal was inscribed in the Red Book of Russia with rarity status category 3 (Rare) and the conservation status “Priority II” of conservation measures. Priority II means: for preserving this species, it is necessary to implement one or more special conservation measures (the Red Book of the Russian Federation, Animals, 2021, pp. 1010-1011). According to “Priority I”, the Caspian seal conservation requires immediate adoption of comprehensive measures, including the development and implementation of a conservation strategy and/or restoration programme.

– Due to the high risks of extinction, include the Caspian seal in the List of rare and endangered objects of the animal world that require priority measures for restoration and reintroduction within the framework of the Federal project “Preservation of biological diversity and development of ecological tourism” of the National project “Ecology”.

– For the purpose of rapid response and research coordination, to form a scientific group on the Caspian seal incorporating leading scientists from the Association of State Universities and Research Centers of the Caspian Countries.

– Create a unified database on monitoring and research of the Caspian seal.

– Develop a programme for monitoring and conservation of the Caspian seal, expanding it to the international level with all Caspian countries participation.

– Develop a coordination plan for the Caspian seal conservation. Since several government bodies are carrying out this work, but there is no process synchronization, unified leadership is needed. That could be the Parliament of Russia, making it possible to resolve the issue of preserving the Caspian seal population at the level of inter-parliamentary interaction.

– A proposal to develop a strategy for preserving the Caspian seal population should be sent to the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Russian Federation.

M.I. Petrakov, Ambassador at Large, Presidential Representative and Secretary at Interdepartmental Commission for Caspian Cooperation. The working group meeting to develop proposals for the improvement of the Caspian Basin. The State Duma Committee on Ecology, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, May 20, 2024.

Learn more (in Russian).
Original photographs from D.N. Kobylkin’s VK page.

 

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