South Kamchatka Sanctuary

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The wild lands of the southern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula are incessantly assaulted by storms of the Pacific Ocean from the East and the Sea of Okhotsk from the West. Human influences are completely absent in this primordial area of Kamchatka’s nature. The South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary covers 322,000 ha of land with a three-mile wide coastal zone.The coastal area is densely populated by marine mammal rookeries and bird colonies.

map of South Kamchatka Sanctuary

The southern extremity of the Kamchatka Peninsula was first granted protection in the 19th century. The South Kamchatka Sanctuary covers part of what was once the Asachinsky Reserve, which existed since 1882. The Sanctuary’s current boundaries include Lopatka Cape, where sea otter rookeries earned special protection from 1892 to 1932.

The South Kamchatka Sanctuary was officially established on April 8, 1983. Even today, this is the only federal-level sanctuary in Kamchatka Krai. The strictly protected regime is near to that of a zapovednik due to the complex tasks it faces in conserving southern Kamchatka ecosystems, including the unique Kuril Lake watershed, stopover areas for migratory birds (particularly the rare bean goose), sea otter colonies, as well as bighorn sheep and brown bear populations.

The Utashud and Gavryushkin Kamen’ islands off the south-eastern coast and Lopatka Cape are the main birthing grounds of Stejneger harbor seals, spotted seals,and sea otters. But the heart of South Kamchatka Sanctuary, without a doubt, lies in the crater of Kuril Lake. The lake was formed following a volcanic explosion, and then filled with snow and rain water. Framed by volcanoes, it is admired by many photographers, cameramen, and artists. Ilyinsky Volcano, which towers 1,600 m above the lake,is a young and active strato volcano. Its’ lava flows once flowed directly into the lake, today forming lovely bays.

In quiet weather,the volcano is reflected in the mirror-like surface of the lake, covering 77 km2. The maximum depth of the lake is 316 m. All the islands in Kuril Lake — Chayachiy, Nizky, the Heart of Alaid, and the Samang Archipelago — are the tops of volcanoes that rose from the boiling water about 8,400 years ago. The Kuril Hot Springs still warm the water to 45°C, where it then trickles between lava stones into Teplaya Bay.

There are many legends surrounding Kuril Lake. One famous story relates how the rocky heart-shaped Heart of Island (Serdtse Alaida) came to be. Another tale speaks to how the unique natural monument -Kutkh’s Boats (Kutkhinye Baty), pumice outcrops jutting from the ground like the peculiar fangs of dragon — were formed. These outcrops, reaching 110 m high,eroded from rocks over time and by wind. Kutkh is an idol of the Itelmen people, while Baty (pl.of Bat) are the dugout boats used by the local people in ancient times.

Ancient peoples once lived in 38 camps and one settlement along the shores of KurilLake. Theword “kuri” in the language of the aborigines meant “a person from nowhere.”The Ainu people were called Kurilians, also lending the name to the lake.

Archeologists found Ainu pottery, jewelry, and eating implements made from bone with Ainu ornamentation, as well as hunting and fishing implements and Japanese bronze coins. At one point the aborigines traveled a great distance unable to resist the temptation of Kuril Lake, which seethed with fish. In August and September, over 5 million sockeye come here from the Okhotsk Sea, where spawning lasts through spring. The spawning continues even under the ice.

There is no bigger and more amazing spawning area in all of Eurasia! One can observe sockeye spawning on the Ozernaya River from the fish-counting weir at the KamchatNIRO Observation Point. The Khakytsyn, Etamynk and Kirushutk rivers are the largest rivers flowing into the lake.

Brown bears are the main fishermen on Kuril Lake. During the spawning season, bears crowd the banks; the local population is the largest of all protected brown bear populations in Russia. Bear fishing is a spectacular sight — as many as 200 bears gather on the lake’s shore, excitedly chasing salmon, playing with each other, stirring up red salmon eggs and water. Once they have had their fill of salmon, they leisurely sprawl in the shadows of nearby trees.

An innumerable air-squadron of gulls (4,500 pairs) inhabiting a freshwater basin, miles from the coast, is another amazing natural phenomenon here, puzzling many scientists. The top of the pyramidis occupied by brown bears and Steller’s sea eagles, one level down are foxes, wolverines, stoats, voles, shrews, and crows. The South Kamchatka Sanctuary is haven for wildlife, and predators are not afraid of people. Visitors must remember that they are merely guests on this land.

In winter, when bears sleep, a colony of birds of prey remains on the lake which has no equal in size: as many as 300–700 Steller’s sea eagles, 100–150 white-tailed eagles and about 50 golden eagles. In areas of the lake free of ice, whooper swans and ducks share the raptors’ meal of red roe. The majestic Steller’s sea eagle is impressive in size; the wingspan of this bird extends 2.5 m, making it the largest bird of prey in our country.

Several rare species of wild orchids and the beautifull esaleuria, rhododendron aureum,and trillium camschatcense flower in the South Kamchatka Sanctuary.

The Kambalny Volcano, the southernmost on Kamchatka Peninsula, rises above the preserve to 2156 m above sea level.

The history of southern Kamchatka is rich. Its territory was a remote outpost during two wars, and one can still see remains of military objects. The south of Kamchatka — Bolsheretsky Ostrog — was an outpost for the Russian military for a long period. During that time, the student Stepan Krashenninikov first came to this land. During the Second Kamchatka Expedition, Georg Steller visited the territory of the preserve. In the early 20th century, well known hydrologist on the Fyodor Ryabushinsky Interdisciplinary Expedition, and A. Derzhavin and his colleague Vladimir Jochelson also worked here. The Swedish Interdisciplinary Expedition was here in the 1920s.

Since its foundation, the South Kamchatka Sanctuary has been managed as a unit of the Kronontsky Federal Reserve (Zapovednik). In 1996, it was included on the list of World Natural Heritage by UNESCO under the nomination “Volcanoes of Kamchatka,” due to its high rating and unique natural features and territory, where elements of a variety of natural ecosystems of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands come together.


Ilinsky Volcano

Kambalny Volcano

Koshelev Volcano and Koshelevsky thermal springs

Kuril Lake

Lopatka Peninsula

Utashud Island

Kutkh’s Boats

Did You Know

The Valley of the Geysers, like a few other unique natural landscapes, was not even known at the time of the Reserve's establishment in 1934