by Yuri LATYPOV, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), Deputy Director for Science, Far Eastern Marine Wildlife Preserve
The Far Eastern Marine Wildlife Preserve, the only one in our country, is located just where the Ussuri taiga woodlands descend to the Pacific Ocean and cold streams run into warm tropical ones. Water covers 98 percent of this preserve. For as long as 35 years workers of this unique sanctuary have been involved with the conservation and explorations of natural complexes of the Maritime Territory and working to restore rare and endangered plant and animal species.
Scenic coasts of the Far Eastern Sanctuary.
How lucky we are to live in this scenic land with its impassible woods, clear mountain rivers, boundless sea expanses, tender in summer and harsh in winter, islands and rocks of most queer shape, fanciful ground patches and submarine landscapes, and most diverse plants and animals... That's where, in Peter the Great Bay, the Far Eastern Marine Biosphere State Wildlife Preserve was set up on March 24, 1978. Over 5,000 species of plants and animals are home there in this rather small area. In fact, certain taxonomic groups of local flora and fauna have not been studied or described well enough thus far.
THE SOUTHEASTERN COAST
The preserve's workers seek to conserve the gene pool of unique ecosystems of Peter the Great Bay, this country's southernmost and warm water offshore zone, most rich in biological diversity. The focus is on eco-activities and eco-education, in particular, eco-tourism that helps to instill eco-friendly culture in people.
Peter the Great Bay is situated at the junction of the temperate and subtropical zones and washed simultaneously by the cold Maritime current and a branch of the warm Tsushima current. Its coastline with numerous islands, peninsulas, inlets, bays and rivers is heavily indented. The bay is remarkable for heterogeneous subsoils and, consequently, for a diversity of the hydrogeological regime and physicochemical environment. This fact accounts for a vast variety of animals and plants, some of them found faraway down south, in the subtrop-ics, while others, in the northern part of the Sea of Japan and other seas of the Far East.
Coastal territories, exceptionally scenic and abounding in various organisms, are of special interest both to nature enthusiasts and to scientists alike. Their look changes even within just one day, let alone season. The small islands of the Rimsky-Korsakov Archipelago in Peter the Great Bay are very nice. The larger Popov Island is the site of the preserve's central farmstead and nature exhibition museum; a botanic garden is being laid out there. When cold northern and warm southern currents clash in the protected water area, they go round the Rimsky-Korsakov Islands and form eddies keeping industrial pollution away.
Our botanists have done a good job in studying the condition of certain rare plants, their size and distribution on the islands; within the framework of our research programs they are monitoring the dynamics of natural resources and planning measures on conserving the biological diversity of insular ecosystems.
The flora and fauna are described by a group of authors in two-volume book, in several collections of scientific papers, in hundreds of articles and doctoral theses. Man-caused environmental modification in the sanctuary
has changed much less than elsewhere in Peter the Great Bay, which has saved thousands of species of aquatic plants and animals. Apart from the well-known inhabitants of the underwater and insular world of the Maritime Territory, rare and even exotic species occur here.
The species composition and structure of bottom sediments depend largely on a substrate. For instance, life is most abundant on a solid sea bottom. It is home to different species of immobile invertebrates, such as sponges, hydroids, actinias, polychaete worms, colonial and single ascidians, mosses and certain kinds of clams like mussels and oysters. All these organisms find their nutrition in a water column filtering it or using their tentacles and, in their turn, provide a reliable refuge and feed for numerous mobile animals. By the way, ascidians, like vertebrates (humans, too!), have a chord or a rod-like dorsal seat, formed at the neanic stage of growth. In other words, a small oceanophilus is possibly our evolutionary ancestor.
The cliffy insular shores and the inland part of the maritime preserve extend also underwater where many communities of organisms are found in great abundance. One main and populous group of organisms living on the hard bottom, the benthos, is formed by mollusks. They range in size from 0.5 to 20 cm. Thus, on them we can study in detail the nutrition spectrum of invertebrates which represent all trophic links including primary producers such as phytophagans (plant-eating), detritophag-es (consuming decomposing organic matter), mud-eaters, filtrate-feeding organisms, flesh-eaters and parasites. Mollusks occupy actually all the main environmental niches and their community (if dense enough) is capable of forming in practical terms an entire food chain.
RARE AND ENDANGERED SPECIES
At present the number of sea, salt-water, migratory (from seas to rivers in a spawning season) and fresh-water
fish counts 337 species in the Maritime Water Area, with about 200 species in the preserve. In other words, the local ichthyofauna is extremely varied. Yet the fish inhabit is a world essentially foreign to humans, and fishery managers will often show but little care for this part of the marine environment. Hence overmuch commercial fishing, cruel fishing implements, mass poaching and many other misdemeanors.
As much as 99 percent of organisms that once inhabited our planet have died out. Certain natural biological processes, competition, abrupt climatic changes, global and local natural catastrophes have contributed to this sad and inevitable process. Our ancestors "assisted" in the extinction of mammoths* and probably some other animals. It is hard to believe but Steller's sea cow was wiped out just 27 years (!) after the discovery of this species offshore the Komandorskie Islands. Alas, today the list of endangered invertebrates native to this region can be augmented by objects of aggressive illegal fishing. Special protection measures are taken in this respect in our marine preserve.
The Pacific trepang is perhaps the main victim of illegal fishing in Peter the Great Bay. Although the habitation area of this species is quite large (from the Yellow Sea onto the South Kurils and Sakhalin) and deep (down to 100 m), its situation in the territorial waters of our country is too bad. According to research findings, the Mari-
* See: A. Tikhonov, Yu. Burlakov, "Causes of Northern Giants' Extinction", Science in Russia, No. 2. 2008.--Ed.
time preserve is the only place in Peter the Great Bay where the population of this species is still adequate to its role in benthic communities, and where ecological relationships are not yet violated like elsewhere in the bay.
While the trepang fished by poachers is delivered practically in full to mainland China and Taiwan (we cannot get it even in Russian restaurants), another pet object of fishing, the Japanese scallop, goes to the domestic market by and large. The author of this paper still remembers the times when the population intensity of this species was ten fish per 1 m2 in some places of Peter the Great Bay. But today it seldom occurs even in the preservation area.
Water bailiffs are working to save the aquatic fauna and natural beauty and wealth of this land and sea sometimes at the risk of their life. That is why our marine preserve, the only one in the country, carries out its mission successfully in the restoration of rare and endangered species despite all the odds. The Chinese egret and spoonbill are an ocular example. These rare birds of the world fauna listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for the Protection of Nature and found earlier only on islands off Korea and China now nestle on the Furugelm Island, their only habitat here in Russia.
And another example. The coral Dendrophyllia arbus-cula was first described in our preserve, though before it was known mainly in tropic regions of the World Ocean. No doubt this achievement became possible only thanks to our status of a specially protected natural territory.
STUDIES OF THE BIOTA WITH THE AIM OF ITS CONSERVATION
Several years ago the Far East Marine Biosphere Preserve became an independent body of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences; now, apart from its nature protection duties, it has to do full-scale research. Its main objective is to monitor natural and man-made changes in marine and insular communities, and also to make an inventory of the biota. Hydrobio-logical and ichthyological surveys are conducted annually in the preservation aquatic area and adjacent waters. To this end, the territory thus surveyed is furnished with a network of stations which provide us with information accurate within one degree and which enable us to col-
lect about 400 samples from 1 to 50 m depths. Our staff workers as well as scientists of this and other countries, and nature enthusiasts monitor, photograph and film representatives of the plant and animal kingdoms.
In October of 2012 the Far Eastern Preserve submitted findings of the first stage of monitoring to the International Symposium on Global Changes in Marine Ecosystems of the Northwestern Pacific held at the Zhir-munsky Institute of Marine Biology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. We have established that the soft ground macrobenthos of Peter the Great sublittoral* numbers 176 species of animals of six groups, such as polychaetes, bivalve mollusks, gastropods, crustaceans, isopods (higher order of crustaceans) and echinoderms. Moreover, the first three of the above groups predominate in numbers and are equal to 38.1, 27.3 and 13.1 percent, respectively, in a total list of the species.
It is noteworthy that in the explored territory the diversity factor for soft ground inhabitants is 1.02, that is rather higher than in other regions of the World Ocean, for example, close to the Spitsbergen Archipelago (0.72) and in the North Sea (0.85). Similar information was obtained by our colleagues in inlets and bays of the South China Sea and coastal area of the North-East Australia (0.97-1.25), the Holy Trinity Inlet (0.9) of Peter the Great Bay; consequently, the condition of the described preservation fauna is optimal.
* Sublittoral, an offshore zone under water.--Ed.
Comparative studies of the monitoring data and those collected in the previous research of the protected aquatic area attest to conservation of its biodiversity. For example, on the underwater slopes of major bays, on half-closed and aggradation plains we detected restored greenlands of the sea grasses Zostera marina and Zostera asiatica degraded in 1991-2011 by 50-80 percent. We also identified the population numbers and distribution of the
bay seal (Phoca largha) in Peter the Great Bay. Our zoologists have evaluated the level of man-made effects in 18 seal rookeries.
For the main mission of the marine preserve, i.e. conservation of its biodiversity, we need most accurate information on the composition of ichthyofauna species, their distribution, their correlation in particular communities and their growth dynamics. To get on top of these problems our staff are making regular checks on habitats by combining visual subwater observations with photographic surveys. This work has no parallel in national and world science.
Unfortunately in recent years the coastal and aquatic areas of Peter the Great Bay have been experiencing an ever greater anthropogenic pressure caused, on the one hand, by the rehabilitation of old industries on the main-
land and the emergence of new industries (oil and gas enterprises, coastal fishing and sea activities farming), and, on the other hand, by a greater number of people coming for recreation in the wild. Under like conditions we should get to know the composition, structure and natural dynamics of communities in the sanctuary so as to assess objectively changes in ecosystems elsewhere.
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