1.6 Lake Baikal – UNESCO World Heritage Site

1.6 Lake Baikal – UNESCO World Heritage Site

In December 1996, Lake Baikal was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site by the resolution of the 20th session of UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which took place in a Mexican city of Merida [5,6]. The major objective of the world heritage list is to make widely known and to protect unique natural and historic sites. For this purpose, assessment criteria have been established. The first six criteria are in place from 1978 and identify cultural heritage, while the four criteria for natural heritage sites were introduced in 2002. From 2005, all the 10 criteria are put together in a single list. Out of thousands of natural heritage sites included in the list, about ten sites match all the four criteria, and Lake Baikal is one of them (pic. 1.6.1).

Pic. 1.6.1  The lake Baikal

In the UNESCO resolution it was stated that «Lake Baikal is a classic world heritage site, matching all the four criteria for natural sites. The lake itself is the centerpiece of the site and its largely unseen underwater features are the core of its value to both science and conservation. The late is surrounded by a system of protected areas that have high scenic and other natural values» (pic. 1.6.2).

Pic. 1.6.2 The coast of Baikal lake

Baikal was formed in the Mesozoic period as a result of the tectonic activities at the rift fault. Tectonic processes are still ongoing, which is manifested in the relatively high seismicity of Baikal region. Lake Baikal is the most ancient and the deepest lake on the Earth with the age of several tens of millions years. It is situated in a huge depression bounded by faults in the earth crust and continuing to expand with a rate of about 2 cm per year. Lake Baikal is a mountainous lake with the water level of between 455.4 m and 455.9 m (the Selenga river delta) above the sea level. The bottom of the lake is about 1200 m below the sea level. The layer of lake sediments reaches 10 km at some places. The sediments inside the lake contain “ciphered” information on climate change and geological history of Asia over the last 25-30 million years.

Baikal water is extraordinarily clean, transparent and saturated with oxygen. The high transparency of Baikal water is due to numerous aquatic organisms purifying the water and making its hydrochemical parameters very close to those of distilled water. Baikal is the biggest fresh-water reservoir on the Earth which makes it a truly unique phenomenon.

The volume of water in the lake is about 23 thousand km3, which constitutes 20% of the world and 90% of the Russian fresh water reserves. Annually, Lake Baikal ecosystem reproduces around 60 km3 of transparent and oxygen-rich water. East Siberia has an extremely continental climate, but the huge amount of water in Lake Baikal and its mountain surroundings produce a specific microclimate. The lake serves as a big heat stabilizer; it is warmer in winter and cooler in summer around the lake as compared to the areas farther away from the lake. The difference in temperatures is about 10 degrees C. This effect is largely caused by the forests growing along the lake shores. Because evaporation of cold water from the lake surface is rather insignificant, clouds do not usually form over the lake. Besides, the air masses bringing clouds from land are heated and the clouds get dissipated. As a result, the sky over the lake is clear most of the time.

Evolution of aquatic species, lasting over a long period of time, led to the formation of the unique endemic flora and fauna, which are of significant value for the study of evolution. Lake Baikal is one of the most biologically diverse lakes on the planet and the habitat of 1340 species of animals (745 endemic species) and 570 species of plants (150 endemics) (pic.1.6.3).

Pic.1.6.3 Baikalian the endemic crayfish (Eulimnogammarus sp.)

Occasionally, scholars discover new species in the lake, which suggests that we know just 70-80% of all the species inhabiting the lake. On top of the trophic pyramid in the lake ecosystem is Baikal seal (nerpa), whose ancestors were Arctic seals, which arrived here through the Lena and Yenisei rivers. Forests around the lake have 10 plant species, recorded by the Red book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the area includes a full range of typical boreal forests.

The lake is surrounded by mountain-taiga landscapes and specially protected natural territories preserved in their natural state and having an additional value. More than a half of the lake’s shoreline is protected as state reserves, national parks and wildlife refuges. There are three nature reserves located immediately on the shore of the lake - Barguzinsky, Baikalo-Lensky and Baikalsky (the reserve has its own museum); two national parks - Pribaikalsky and Zabaikalsky; 6 wildlife refuges of the federal level - Frolihinsky, Kabansky, Pribaikalsky, Stepnodvoretsky, Verkhneangarsky and Enkheluksky.

The area of Lake Baikal can be considered as a tourist multi-functional zone possessing considerable recreational resources where all types of tourism are possible. It incorporates unique monuments of nature, while its flora and fauna are rich and variegated. The picturesque locations around Baikal depression with mountain ranges, boreal forests, tundra, lakes, islands and grassland form beautiful landscapes. Traditional types of tourism in the area include hunting and fishing. Recent years saw an increasing interest in sport hunting from local and foreign tourists. Other types of tourism in the area include diving, horse riding, trekking, rafting, sports hunting and fishing, and ecotourism.

While nominating Baikal as a world heritage site, the following recommendations were forwarded to the government of Russia:

- to pass a federal law on Lake Baikal

- to re-orient Baikal pulp-and-paper mill with the purpose of eliminating it as a source of pollution;

- to reduce the discharge of pollutants into the Selenga river;

- to improve the resource provision to nature reserves and national parks adjacent to the lake;

- to provide support to scientific research and surveys on Lake Baikal.

By now, the law on Lake Baikal has been adopted and, in December 2013, Baikal pulp-and-paper mill ceased its operation. The territory of the closed plant has been transformed to host the expo center “Nature reserves of Russia” [6].

The conservation of Lake Baikal for the future generations as a world source of clean fresh water and as a natural site with the original landscapes and unique fauna and flora is the most important task of the Russian government and the most important condition for the sustainable development of Baikal region.



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