Theme №1 in the “Crimean issue” during the last two years is the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, which aims to connect Russia with the annexed Crimean peninsula. Most of the discussions around this undoubtedly important issue are turning around political consequences, or are like dragging a rope guessing whether “they will finish or they will not finish”. However, the politicization of the issue only provokes the debate and the noise that accompanies the construction, instead of actually assessing the possible consequences of such a huge construction project.
The bridge is built in complicated engineering and geological conditions, in the place of active movement of sea surface currents, accumulation of sediments, coastal erosion, water floods and wind processes; its functioning is threatened by the risks of tectonic manifestations, as the Kerch Peninsula is located in a seismically active zone where the magnitude of oscillations can reach 9 points on the Richter scale. The ice motion in the Azov Sea could lead to excessive loads on the construction of the bridge; its predecessor in 1945 could not withstand such pressure. Impact on the ecosystems of the Black and Azov Seas, the destruction of the ecosystems of the Tuzla island and the negative impact on the marine ecosystems of the Taman Gulf, pollution of the marine environment during the construction and operation of the bridge, the threat of changes in the chemical composition of the waters of the Azov Sea due to violations of water exchange processes between the Black and Azov Seas, the impact on the biota – all of this will lead to a disturbance of the ecological balance in the region and to serious consequences combatting which will cost much more than building a bridge.
Kerch peninsula. Three of the six Crimean nature reserves are located on the peninsula as well as a large number of archaeological and geological monuments. In the 1980s, it was proposed to announce the entire peninsula to be a biosphere reserve.1
The transformation of the peninsula into the “Eastern Gate of Crimea” will lead to the rapid development of infrastructure, construction of warehouses, military bases, etc. At present, a new highway across the peninsula to Kerch city is under construction, and a new railway line is planned to be constructed2, which will permanently distort the unique peninsula.
Currently the most notable for the nature are the consequences of military exercises on the territory of the Karalarsky Regional Landscape Park (RLP) on the northern shore of the peninsula. In the past, the territory of the RLP was a military training ground, but in the last decades it was not used for military exercising and there was no negative impact. At the moment, a military airfield3 has been restored on the “training ground”, and trainings involving aviation are conducted. On the territory of the Opuk Nature Reserve, Russian troops established an even more powerful military training ground, including for bombing. Full-scale training has already taken place at the site.4 Land connection with Russia will substantially facilitate for the occupants life support for military exercises and delivery of ammunition.
The physical destruction of historical and natural landscapes by building transport infrastructure and warehouses, the deployment of military polygons and negative effects of ammunition explosions (including soil contamination) will permanently change the peninsula for the worse.
Fish stock. The Kerch Strait is a fishing place for a number of fish species. In addition, the Sea of Azov is a place of living and spawning of many industrial species. Violation of the ways of their migration because of the construction of the dam to the Tuzla island and pollution of the sea with toxic bottom sediments due to their lifting during the construction of the bridge and the dam can cause reduction of populations of certain species and, accordingly, the collapse of the Azov Sea ecosystem.
Dolphins. The Sea of Azov is the habitat of two species of dolphins that are listed in the Red Data Book of Ukraine and protected by an international agreement on the protection of cetaceans in Europe. Their livelihoods can be negatively affected by changes in the ways of fish migration and by water pollution. Also, the vibration as a result of the bridge construction and use obviously substantially exceeds the indicators acceptable for dolphins.
Oil and gas extraction. There are oil and gas deposits in the Azov Sea. With the erection of the bridge across the Kerch Strait, the situation will be complicated by the fact that the towers cannot be towed out of the Sea of Azov, their parameters will not allow to pass under the bridge arch.
Seismic security. The Kerch Peninsula and the Strait itself are located in the seismically active zone where the faults of the Earth’s crust are passing, which is proved by the presence of mud volcanoes. The Strait itself for over 80 meters deep consists of sediment sludge. Nobody conducted a profound study of the earth’s crust under the sludge. In the Soviet times, the possibility of building a bridge over the Kerch Strait was already considered, but due to the difficult geological situation, in particular the danger of earthquakes, this idea was rejected. Germans during the occupation also did not manage to link the Crimean resorts with the Caucasus.
There are no encouraging Russian conclusions of environmental impact assessment and some scientists even expresses their fears. Although there was a demonstration of the so-called relocation of rare animals and even plants from the zone of the bridge construction5. However, the rare fauna in the area of bridge construction is represented by dolphins, fish and crabs in the sea as well as birds flying over the Strait. It would be hard to imagine relocation of these groups of animals.
However, the most disturbing is a completely different question. What will happen if the bridge falls? To what extend will the strait be blocked? Who and how will be able to extract the remains of a 19-kilometer long bridge from the bottom, so that some ships could enter the Azov Sea. How will this affect the biodiversity of the Azov Sea? The answers to these questions are unlikely to be found now. Ukrainian scholars do not have any possibility to study the situation during the construction of the bridge.
According to EPL, environmental safety of the Azov Sea, as well as of the Kerch Peninsula itself can be guaranteed only if the construction of the bridge is stopped and the part of the bridge that has already been erected is dismantled. EPL calls on Crimean and Russian environmentalists with the request to disseminate information about the environmental threats caused by the construction of the Crimean bridge.
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1 Перспективная сеть заповедных объектов Украины / под об.ред Шеляга Сосонка Ю.Р. К. – 1987.