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Warm Waters: Kamchatka

Global warming is affecting the entire planet but the people, flora and fauna in the Pacific region are particularly vulnerable. In the southern Pacific powerful super-cyclones and 'king tides' are occurring ever more frequently. In the North, coastal communities are losing land to coastal erosion caused by thawing permafrost. On Russia's remote eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, coastal erosion is forcing the residents of communities like Oktyabrsky, located on a sand between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bolshaya River, to decamp inland as parts of the settlement continue to be consumed by the encroaching sea. Today, only about 1,500 people cling on, a mere third of the town's population only 50 years ago. There's no tourism here as the geysers and volcanoes which Kamchatka is famous for are a long way off. Oktyabrsky is fighting a losing battle for survival.
The demise of Oktyabrsky started in the 1970s but recently, the speed of the sea's assault on the settlement has increased significantly. Three entire streets have already disappeared and the empty hulks of former apartment blocks built on the seafront continue to be battered by the sea and wind, slowly sinking into the sand. Solid sea ice that used to protect the coastline in from autumn and winter storms is now a rarity, with temperatures steadily rising. 79 year old Vladimir Prazdrikov, a retired former captain of a small fishing vessel, has lived in Oktyabrsky since 1964. He recounts how three streets were gradually washed away by the sea in the early 1970s. "There was a college there, where they trained mechanics. They had a diesel workshop, then they built a gym. It was a good college but it looked like a bomb had struck - the workshop, the forges, everything was wrecked. The storms just kept coming, one after another" he says, pointing to the ruins of several buildings.

Another settlement near Oktyabrsky, referred to by locals as 'Base 49', has been completely destroyed by coastal erosion and washed into the sea. In the 1990s the local authorities hurriedly relocated its inhabitants inland. They barely had time to take their clothes and documents before being escorted onto buses and evacuated. People were paid a relocation allowance and given jobs in another state owned fishing cooperative but had to rebuild their lives from scratch, without their belongings they had to leave behind. Today, the former settlement provides shelter for bears and poachers.

To avoid this fate, the people of Oktyabrsky have tried to stave off the encroaching sea by towing abandoned cars and rusting fishing boats onto the beaches to provide a buffer against the waves but life remains hard in this isolated community where the vast majority - almost 900 inhabitants - work in the local fishing industry. Under communism, many locals fondly remember, during the "years of developed socialism", close to 200 fish processing enterprises operated in Oktyabrsky alone. But the end of the Soviet Union meant bankruptcy and closure for most.

Today, only 15 privately owned fish factories operate in Oktyabrsky, many of which employ seasonal labour from other parts of the country. Though living conditions are harsh, with many seasonal labourers living in converted buses, caravans or huts, the monthly pay, at 50,000 rubles (around EUR 740.00) for a working season of around 5 months is quite respectable for a region with few employment opportunities.

As for the permanent residents of the settlement, most are reluctant to abandon their homes, leaving them to them to be consumed by the sea. The community has been discussing the prospect of resettlement for over 10 years and so far resilience has prevailed. The harsh weather and remoteness of Oktyabrsky, which regularly gets cut off from the mainland when the only road floods, as well as the power cuts and disruption of food supplies have not been enough to break the local spirit. Many of the seasonal workers who come to work in Oktyabrsky fall in love with the scenery and want to stay on this remote sand bank.
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