One of the last areas of wilderness

19 January 2011 | Fact sheet

Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Russian Federation

Background

One of the last largely unexploited and relatively pristine wildernesses in the world, Volcanes of Kamtchatka is also one of the most active volcanic zone. It includes a great number of unpolluted river systems with a large number of endemic species and subspecies of both plants and animals, including globally-important spawning grounds for the world’s greatest diversity of salmonid fish and a variety of wetlands exceptionally attractive to migratory birds.

The continuing tectonic and volcanic activity constantly creates new areas for pioneer settlement by plants and animals. As a result, a range of different successional biological communities co-exist, developing in relative isolation. The existence of the only freshwater salmon species in Asia, in Kronotskiye Lake, may be the result of these processes and the wide variety of organisms living in the hot springs are another unusual feature.

Volcanoes of Kamtchatka is well known for its flora and fauna that is untouched by civilization. It is a group of six protected areas and has been a World Heritage serial site since 1996. The site comprises six distinct locations on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in the Russian Far East, in the central mountainous spine of the peninsula (Bystrinsky Nature Park), and coastal locations facing east towards the Bering Sea (Koronotsky Zapovednik, Nalychevo Nature Park) and the contiguous Southern Kamchatka Nature Park and Southern Kamchatka State Nature Reserve). Kluchevskoy Nature Park was added in 2001 as the sixth component of the site.

View images of the World Heritage Site

 

Size and location

With an area of 3.7 million hectares, the Kamchatka Peninsula lies in the Russian Far East between the Sea of Okhotsk and the north Pacific Ocean. Klyuchevskoy Zakaznik is in the central valley. Bystrinskiy Zakaznik is in a major range west of the centre. The other areas are on the mountainous shores of the Pacific Ocean: Kronotskiy Zapovednik, Nalychevo Zakaznik, South Kamchatka Zakaznik and South Kamchatka State Zakaznik and in the south-west, South Tundra Zakaznik.

Flora and fauna

More than 300 volcanoes are found in Kamchatka, 29 being currently active, including caldera, strata-volcano, somma-volcano and mixed types, the largest included in the World Heritage site being Kronotskaya Sopka (3,528m). In addition there is a multitude of thermal and mineral springs, geysers and other phenomena of active vulcanism. Surrounded by sea, the peninsula enjoys a moist and relatively mild climate leading to a lush vegetation cover. With only a modest history of human exploitation, the vegetation is in largely pristine condition, and includes mountain valley taiga forest of birch, larch and spruce; extensive stone-birch forest; riparian forest on alluvial soil of poplars, aspen, alder and willow; peat wetland and extensive coastal wetlands up to 50km wide; and subalpine shrub and mountain tundra.

The Kamchatka Volcanoes contain an especially diverse range of palearctic flora (including a number of nationally threatened species and at least 16 endemics), and bird species such as Stellar’s sea eagle (50% of the world population), white tailed eagle, gyr falcon and peregrine falcon, which are attracted to the availability of spawning salmon. The rivers inside and adjacent to the site contain the world’s greatest known diversity of salmonid fish. All 11 species coexist in several of Kamchatka’s rivers.

The faunal complement is relatively low in diversity, with the Kamchatka Peninsula exhibiting some of the biogeographic qualities of an island. Nevertheless, a number of species are abundant, including bears, snow ram, northern deer, sable and wolverine, and there is a high level of endemism. Noteworthy birds include Stellar's sea eagle, white-tailed eagle, golden eagle, gyrfalcon and peregrine falcon. There are numerous seabird colonies and 50% of the global population of Aleutian tern nests on the peninsula. Almost all rivers, noted for being exceptionally unpolluted, serve as salmon spawning grounds, a key food-chain species for predatory birds and mammals. All 11 species of salmonid fish coexist in several of Kamchatka's rivers.