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Observations of biota in Stepovogo Fjord, Novaya Zemlya, a former dumping site for radioactive waste

Abstract

Stepovogo Fjord, located on the eastern coast of Novaya Zemlya, is an important former Soviet Union dumping site for radioactive waste. There is little information available on marine biota in this area. Better knowledge on the structure of marine food webs will allow for more accurate assessments of the consequences of any potential radioactive releases from the dumped waste. This article describes the occurrence, size and age distribution and diet of fish species collected in Stepovogo Fjord in 2012. The occurrence of macroalgae and other benthic species is also described. The fish fauna was dominated by the demersal fishes navaga (Eleginus nawaga) and shorthorn sculpin (Myoxocephalus scorpius). Navaga preyed mainly on benthic invertebrates, while sculpin preyed mainly on other fish species. A single individual of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) was also observed. Shorthorn sculpin and Atlantic cod have not previously been reported so far north in the Kara Sea. All taxa of macroalgae and benthic invertebrates observed in Stepovogo Fjord are common to the western coast of Novaya Zemlya and/or other areas in the Arctic. Currently there is no fishing activity in the immediate area in or around Stepovogo Fjord and only little commercial fishing in the Kara Sea due to the low commercial value of the species found in the area. Navaga and shorthorn sculpin do not make extensive migrations. As a result, the potential for the transfer of radioactive contamination to humans from consumption of fish and other seafood from this area is low at present.

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Acknowledgements

The expedition to Stepovogo Fjord in August/September 2012 was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Norwegian Nuclear Action Plan and by the International Science and Technology Centre under the supplementary programme for emergency preparedness and response, rehabilitation, remediation and monitoring in North-West Russia, in the Kara Sea and the Arctic marine environment. We want to thank Viacheslav Shershakov (expedition leader on Russian side), Alexander Nikitin (scientific supervisor of the expedition on Russian side, deceased), Bjørn Lind (scientific supervisor of the expedition on Norwegian side), Gunnar Bakke (sampling of biota and identification of fish species) and the captain and crew of R. V. “Ivan Petrov” for excellent cooperation during the expedition. We also thank Inger Marie Beck for analyses of stomach content, Hildegunn Mjanger for age reading of Atlantic cod and navaga, Harald Senneset and Per Ågotnes for age reading of shorthorn sculpin, Cottidae and Arctic eelpout, Ole Thomas Albert for age reading of long rough dab, colleagues at IMR for species determination of benthos and Kjell Bakkeplass for help with graphics. We are also grateful to Kjersti Sjøtun, Lis Lindal Jørgensen and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hilde Elise Heldal.

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Heldal, H.E., Bogstad, B., Dolgov, A.V. et al. Observations of biota in Stepovogo Fjord, Novaya Zemlya, a former dumping site for radioactive waste. Polar Biol 41, 115–124 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-017-2175-3

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Keywords

  • Stepovogo Fjord
  • Kara Sea
  • Dumping site
  • Radioactive contamination
  • Marine food webs
  • Fish diet