Bely Island becoming cleaner

September 10, 2013

Today we will visit the northernmost part of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area and the main gas production region in Russia – Bely Island.

The island is located in the Kara Sea. It is the Arctic Ocean! We didn’t expect to see such marvelous beaches here. Look, what a broad strip of magnificent white sand. If only it hadn’t been 5 degrees Celsius on the last day of July (most of the shots in our essay were made on that day)...

There are no permanent residents on the Bely Island, but a meteorological station does exist on it.

A wooden beacon built in 1936 is also located on the island. For many years it faithfully guided ships passing through the Northern Sea Route. Now the beacon is retired.

There are also a few buildings on the island where border guards used to live and serve in the Soviet times.

In 2012 a small wooden Orthodox chapel appeared on the island. It is one of the northernmost in the world.

Narrow wooden paths connect all of the abovementioned facilities on the island.

A dog called Botsman lives on the island.

Besides, there is waste metal.

A lot of waste metal.

And wooden debris.

And used batteries – and whatever you want!

Waste tends to accumulate imperceptibly, but by leaps and bounds. If a thorough cleaning is done occasionally, it becomes more difficult to place things in order.

Here is an interesting fact: everyone has heard about the ‘Northern supplies’, when during a short summer navigation period food, fuel and all the bare essentials for normal wintering are delivered to remote areas.

However, has anyone heard about the ‘Northern removal’? No one has. Everything that had been delivered to the Bely Island was either used for a long time (for example, diesel fuel) or thrown away (for example, emptied diesel fuel tanks).

A lot of people brought things in: geological expeditions, border guards and meteorologists. The time has come to clear things up.

In 2012 the Governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area suggested that an environmental expedition should start clean-up operations on the island. In summer, when all the traces of human activities appeared from under the snow, volunteers arrived.



The 2012 experience was a success. In 2013 it was decided to carry on the virtuous initiative. Taking into account the declared Year of Ecology and Yamal’s importance for the gas industry, Gazprom decided to support this initiative. Above you may see four photos from the 2012 volunteers report.

In 2013 the first volunteer crew came to the island on July 10. An expedition participant had a great difficulty to make this one-and-only picture that perpetuated the volunteers’ emotions while landing at one of the northernmost corners of the planet. 

It is not for the last time in this essay that we switch on the time machine and go exactly 21 days forward – to July 31. Here is a picture that perpetuates another memorable event: Sergey Menshikov (center), Director General of Gazprom’s wholly-owned subsidiary Gazprom Dobycha Nadym, is making first steps on the island. He is greeted by Alexander Mazharov, Deputy Governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area (left) and Sergey Dyatchenko, an organizer of the expedition (right).

And Botsman is already there. He also knows that Gazprom Dobycha Nadym was tasked to supervise Gazprom’s participation in the environmental expedition to the Bely Island.

It is not a coincidence that we chose July 31 to make our visit. On that day the first volunteer crew ended its work and handed over the baton to the next shift.

Dmitry Kobylkin, Governor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, came to the island on the same day.

Nikolai, Bishop of Salekhard and Novy Urengoy, dedicated the chapel …

… and officiated a wedding. The enviable right was given to churchgoers from Salekhard. Nikolai and Natalya Ryzhkov have been married for many years. But such an extreme and memorable wedding service (5 hours by helicopter one way – and 5 hours back!) will surely make this alliance eternal.

And can you imagine how great it would be if a couple who met in a volunteer crew got married? But it is actually impossible: girls are not allowed to volunteer here – the living and working conditions are too harsh.

Judge it for yourselves: the former border guard barracks were patched up, beds were installed and bedclothes were brought in.

In the room next door the fish caught in a close-by creek is dried. Seven odorous ‘batons’ pass from the Vladimir Yevladov crew (aka the first crew) to the Mikhail Popov crew (aka the second crew). Note: Vladimir Yevladov and Mikhail Popov are famous explorers of the Arctic.

Of course, the fish is not the only component in the volunteers’ ration. There is meat, canned food and grains common for outdoor conditions. The picture shows an orderly volunteer crew walking to get the provision supplies brought by gas workers.

The handover process was short and ended without solemn speeches.

As for individual gifts with the Year of Ecology logo on them, Sergey Menshikov presented them solemnly during a tea party.

The first crew is reporting on the work done over 21 days. 30 thousand square meters of tundra have been cleaned up, with 10 tons of metal and 25 cubic meters of wood gathered.

The volunteers are helped by professionals. They know how to handle special-purpose tools: they cut metal and pile it up for further transportation. Their head Sergey Dyatchenko said: “The work could have been done faster if we had had special equipment. This year Gazprom allotted funds and we will have such equipment soon.”

The time machine is on again. August 13, 2013. The town of Labytnangi. New equipment pleasing the eye with fresh shop paint and sponsor logos is loaded on the vessel and is heading to the island.

Right now these dexterous machines are healing the rusty wounds given to the island surface by men.

But the machines by themselves are nothing. Here are the real heroes, young volunteers who underwent a rigorous selection process and special training. 

Vitaly Nikolayev didn’t have to get used to either the North, as he lives in Salekhard, or to cleaning up operations – Vitaly works at the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area. He took a leave to visit the island.

As for Alexey Safronov from Moscow, everything is brand new for him here: the Arctic, warm clothes in July and, what struck Alexey most, a polar day.

Dmitry Golikov liked Bely so much that after finishing the three-week work with the first crew he decided to stay for another shift with the second one.

In general, there will be three crews comprised of 12 to 15 people each. The summer stage of the expedition ends on September 11.

There is some time left before the departure. Let us walk the island a bit. Of course, we won’t be able to cover all the 1,900 square kilometers of its area, but we can visit a meteorological station.

This meteorological device is called heliograph. It is used for recording the length of sunshine, that is, the period when the sun is above the horizon and not covered by the clouds. Everything is fine with the first condition on Bely in summer (polar day), but the second one, as you see, is not so easy to fulfill. It’s hazy.

There are more devices nearby. When meteorologists report on a daily amount of precipitation (measured in millimeters), they provide data produced by a device called a precipitation gauge in the front of the photo. Please note that everything that may rust on the Bely Island, rusts very quickly, whereas wood, plastic and plating are pretty much OK.

And here is a ‘business card’ of the meteorological station. An attentive reader will not only see valuable reference information on it, but will also notice where exactly nails are battered in the lining. The rust on the island leaves no chance to the metal.

An old diesel generator supplies the inhabitants of the meteorological station with power. The generator is treated very carefully, as it is a matter of vital importance for meteorologists. 

There is one more place on the island that needs visiting.

The memorial sign was installed in 2009.

The Bely Island that received us with an unfriendly-colored sky and piles of waste metal sees us off with a smile of a helicopter platform. That’s right. Think positive. If we switch the time machine on once again, we will see how in just a couple of years the island will get its own environmental laboratory and become an Arctic nature monitoring center – and, consequently, its protection center. Such plans already exist.

Andrey Teplyakov, Gennady Litvinov (Gazprom Dobycha Nadym), Danil Kolosov (Krasny Sever newspaper), volunteers of the environmental expedition to the Bely Island, Gazprom website Editorial Board.


P.S. Behind the scenes Botsman is prompting photo opportunities to Gennady Litvinov, author of most photos in the essay.


You can find large size images in Photos.