134). In addition, Russian authorities have also joined with the international community to protect the lake. In this regard, Hudgins adds that, "Increased awareness of such threats to the unique ecology of Lake Baikal has prompted a number of international organizations -- including the Sierra Club and Baikal Watch in the United States -- to join the Russians in their efforts to protect this natural wonder of the world" (1998, p. 135). According to the Sierra Club, "Lake Baikal, arguably Russia's most significant environmental treasure -- it contains a fifth of the world's unfrozen freshwater and is a UNESCO World Heritage site -- is being polluted by toxic waste from a paper mill that Vladimir Putin ordered reopened for economic reasons" (Pollutin' Putin, 2010, para. 2). In fact, the recently reopened paper mill disposes of toxic wastes directly into Lake Baikal's fragile biological system (Hoare, 2008). While the Sierra Club has largely focused on raising public awareness concerning the dire condition of Lake Baikal, the U.S.-based Baikal Watch has adopted a more aggressive approach to help save the lake.
Based on its stated mission to "achieve permanent protection of Lake Baikal and its Siberian surroundings, and to restore the integrity of the environment throughout Russia," Baikal Watch has:
1. Promoted the growth of the Russian environmental movement and of Russian grassroots organizations in particular;
2. Educated the local public, and providing for the participation of the people in making regional environmental policies;
3. Strengthened the rule of law in Russia; and,
4. Supported the development of economic alternatives, such as ecotourism, and other sustainable activities (Current programs, 2010).
Pursuant to its stated mission, Baikal Watch has also launched a wide range of initiatives in collaboration with Russian partners to financially support protection and remediation efforts of the lake, including the following:
6. The Russian State Committee on the Environment (Moscow and regional capital cities) (Current programs, 2010).
Although a number of human-made features continue to threaten the lake's integrity, including the Russian oil industry, a new nuclear power plant and the aforementioned recently reopened paper mill, there have been some success stories in recent years. According to Mistiaen, "Over the years, many people and groups have fought to preserve Lake Baikal, but one of its most ardent and successful protectors is Marina Rikhvanova, 46, a soft-spoken biologist and Lake Baikal resident" (p. 25). In 2008, Rikhvanova was awarded the world's most prestigious prize for environmental activism, the Goldman Environmental Prize, in recognition of her ongoing efforts to save Lake Baikal (Mistiaen, 2008). In an interview with Rikhvanova conducted by Hoare (2008), the environmental activist emphasized that, "About a million people rely on it as their main source of water. Our aim is to preserve the environment and promote clear policies for sustainable development while encouraging public participation in decision-making processes" (quoted at p. 98).
As the co-founder of the Baikal Environmental Wave, a non-governmental organization to protect the lake, Rikhvanova was successful in compelling Russia's leadership to divert the Transneft Siberia-Pacific oil pipeline, the longest oil pipeline in the world, from the Lake Baikal region (Mistiaen, 2008). Remarkably, the national campaign conducted by the Baikal Environmental Wave received widespread support from the Russian general public, resulting in country-wide protests, support from the international community and 100,000 signatures of Russian citizens on a petition to save the lake, what Mistiaen describes as "an amazing feat considering Russia's increasingly repressive climate. In April 2006, President Vladimir Putin relented and ordered the pipeline to be rerouted away from the lake's watershed. This marked a tremendous success for civil society and the environmental movement in Russia" (2008, p. 25).
The lake's geographic position -- and its enormous size -- can be readily discerned from the map shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Political Map of Russia Showing Lake Baikal
Source: Russia, 2010
In reality, as can be seen from Figure 1 above, it is not surprising that Lake Baikal, situated in south-east Siberia, is so biodiverse. According to March, "Lake Baikal receives the water of numerous small rivers and streams and is drained by the Angara River. Although only rated eighth in area, it is the world's deepest. It is the largest single repository of fresh water, holding more than all the Great Lakes combined" (1996, p. 8). Likewise, Honeychurch and Amartuvshin (2007) note that, "The Egiin Gol River is a major tributary of the Selenge River system, which feeds into Lake Baikal, Siberia" (p. 36).
Although it contains less water than the Caspian Sea which is the largest land-locked body of water in the world, the Caspian Sea is salt-laden while Lake Baikal contains fresh water (March, 1996). In this regard, March adds that, "[Lake Baikal] has an ecology with unique fish and mammals, even including a separate species of seal" (1996, p. 8). Likewise, Mistiaen emphasizes that, "Siberia's Lake Baikal is one of the world's oldest, largest and deepest lakes. Its age and isolation have created one of the richest and most unusual collections of freshwater plants and animals on earth, including some 1,700 species unique to the lake, like the nerpa or Baikal seal" (2008, p. 25).
The research showed that references to Lake Baikal are universally superlative, with the lake being among the largest, oldest and deepest lakes in the world. Created about 25 million years ago, not only does Lake Baikal contain fully one-fifth of the world's entire fresh water supply, the lake's unique geographic location has contributed to the high levels of plant and animal endemism in the region. The research also showed that despite being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the efforts of a number of Russian and international organizations, the economic realities of the Russian Federation continue to constrain attempts to protect the lake. Nevertheless, the research was also consistent in showing that Russian authorities and the general public have increasingly recognized the importance of protecting Lake Baikal, and it might not be too late to save its fragile and diverse ecosystem for future generations.
Current programs. (2010). Baikal Watch. Retrieved from http://www.earthislandprojects.org / project/campaignPage.cfm?pageID=7&subSiteID=1&CFID=43926225&CFTOKEN=32
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