Scientists: Baikal suffers large-scale restructuring of ecosystem

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Scientists are concerned about the bloom of the spirogyra and blue-green algae in shallow waters, which is nontypical for the lake, about the disease and mass extinction of the endemic sponges, and about water pollution from the coastal villages.

Lake Baikal is currently experiencing a large-scale restructuring of the entire ecological system as a result of human activities, said the Acting Director of the Limnological Institute, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Irkutsk), member of the Academy Mikhail Grachyov.

The 6th International Vereshchagin Baikal Conference gathering scientists to discuss the "environmental crisis" of the lake has finished in Irkutsk. In particular the representatives of the Limnological Institute expressed their concern about the bloom of the spirogyra and blue-green algae in shallow waters, which is nontypical for the lake, about the disease and mass extinction of the endemic sponges, about water pollution from the coastal villages and so on.

"The Acting Director of the Limnological Institute Mikhail Grachyov has described it as "a large-scale restructuring of the entire ecosystem of Lake Baikal." According to him, this phenomenon is observed for the first time within 100 years of research," the press-service of the Irkutsk Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences informs.

According to Grachyov, the phenomenon of a comparable scale occurred in 1987-88 when the lake experienced mass extinction of the ringed seals. But then scientists found that they died from the canine distemper, whereas the current situation is more complicated.

The report notes that according to scientists, the most likely cause of the earlier environmental crisis is eutrophication. However, this version doesn’t seem that clear.

Meanwhile, the scientists agree that the anthropogenic effect and the ever-increasing flow of tourists play a critical role for the current state of the lake.

"To ensure the accurate "diagnosis" of the lake, further research and constant monitoring of the lakescape should be conducted. Here, the scientists need the government’s support: both financial and administrative one. However, the prospects of getting it are more than clouded," the report says.

The Baikal is one of the greatest lakes on the planet; this is a lake of “superlatives”: it’s the deepest lake (1,637 m), the oldest one (25 million years), it is a freshwater reservoir with the most diverse flora and fauna.

The lake has a unique supply of fresh water in terms of its volume and quality (23.6 thousand cubic kilometers which is more than 20% of the world’s freshwater resources). In 1996 the lake was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Text and pictures by RIA Novosti