Thursday, February 5, 2015

Russian sub crew feeds garbage to polar bears, fueling international outrage

Thomas Nilsen, Barents Observer
A polar bear is attracted to the nuclear powered submarine by crew members throwing food and garbage onto the ice and into the water. Photographer unknown. Provided by Aleksandr Serebryanikov via the Barents Observer

A ballistic missile submarine of the Delta-IV class has surfaced near an ice floe where a polar bear is spotted. There, the photos show crew members throwing loads of garbage, mainly old bread and plastic packaging, into the water to attract the polar bear’s attention.

There are apparently also other foodstuffs, plastic bags, bottles and other garbage, both in the water and on the ice-floe.

Barents Observer knows neither the date, nor the location of where the photos were captured. We got the photos from Aleksandr Serebryanikov, well known as Blogger51 in Murmansk, Russia’s Arctic capital and the administration center of the Kola Peninsula where all the Northern Fleet’s nuclear powered submarines are based.

"Feeding wild polar bears human food is reprehensible for a number of reasons -- feeding them human trash is downright disgusting," says Nils Harley Boisen, Arctic Advisor with World Wildlife Fund-Norway.

When reviewing the photos, he say he's disappointed with the Russian Navy’s behavior.

“The fact that this is the Russian Navy dumping trash in to the oceans is deplorable -- marine debris is among the greatest threats facing our oceans and I would really expect the Russian Navy to conduct themselves at a much higher standard,” he says.

Also the Governor of Svalbard, Norway’s Arctic archipelago home to thousands of polar bears, says to BarentsObserver that ”this way of waste management is very unfortunate.”

Eigil Movik is senior advisor of Nature Management. ”It will take a very long time before plastic thrown into the sea decompose. The degradation process will involve plastic fragments of different sizes, ranging from large plastic pieces to micro plastic fragments. Seabirds, fish and other animals often confuse plastic fragments with their prey and, if eaten, it can cause death to the animals because their digestive system are blocked.”

The photos of the Russian submarine crew is not taken within Norway’s waters near to Svalbard, but if this had happened at Svalbard, it would clearly violate Norwegian law, Movik explains.

”Based on these provisions, the waste treatment shown in the pictures is a violation of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act,” says Eigil Movik.

Boisen, with WWF, says there are no international rules for dumping trash outside of a country’s exclusive economic zone.

“However, all Arctic nations certainly have their own version of, for example, Norway’s pollution legislation that would prohibit this in their own national waters. As far as feeding trash to wild polar bears is concerned -- it’s not illegal but it’s certainly not wise.”

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin is known for advocating for the protection of polar bears. He even runs a dedicated site for the polar bear program at his Kremlin portal.

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