Director of WWF-Russia: Wildlife can and should benefit from ecotourism
Dmitry Gorshkov
Director of WWF-Russia

Director of WWF-Russia: Wildlife can and should benefit from ecotourism

The World Wildlife Fund (known formally as the ‘World Wide Fund for Nature’ with the same abbreviation ‘WWF’) has been operating in our country since the 1990s, and all these years, Igor Chestin, an honored ecologist of Russia, was its leader who took an honorary position as the president of the WWF-Russia last year due to health reasons. This spring, Dmitry Gorshkov, a representative of the dynasty involved in the nature conservation and protection took this post. His father, Yuri Gorshkov, has been heading the Volga-Kama Nature Reserve for a quarter of a century. For five years, Dmitry Gorshkov had served as the director of the Sikhote-Alin State Nature Biosphere Reserve, the largest specially protected natural area in the south of the Far East, from where he got into the WWF. The winner of the contest to take the position of the WWF-Russia director told us about the current affairs and shared his plans with us for the next five years because he will be at the helm of the largest environmental organization in Russia for this period in accordance with the WWF-Russia’s Charter.

- What new large-scale projects does the WWF plan to launch in the near future in Russia?

Over the period of the WWF’s activities in Russia, more than 1,000 field projects have been implemented. Despite the lockdown, we continue launching our new projects. At the end of June, an expedition to the Oran Islands, the Arctic, started to study the Atlantic walruses, also, the baby birds are being introduced from the nursery to the nests of wild saker falcon in the Altai area right now, and the work - not so impressive but no less important - is under way to produce various documents and work out strategies.

When it comes to our near-term plans, as part of our programme for the conservation of snow leopards, we plan to teach mountaineering skills to those who look after these rare ‘cats’ in the mountains, and the professional climbers will be the trainers. This summer, with the help of our supporters and partners we will build winter and summer aviaries for the rehabilitation of wounded birds in the ‘Tigr’ (Tiger) Rehabilitation Centre.

We are implementing another project in the village of Amderma on the shore of the Kara Sea. With the support of the WWF-Russia, a video surveillance system, fencing and lighting will be installed there that can prevent conflicts between the local community and polar bears. It will become the first infrastructure of this kind in the Russian Arctic region for social purposes. If the project is successful, we will use this practice in other Arctic towns where polar bears come to.

We consider the possible work on the eco-tourism development projects in future, as well as the conservation of cetaceans and their habitats, etc.

- Please tell us about the WWF plans to create a worldwide network of the Arctic marine reserves. What can be the Russia’s contribution to this project?

The Fund is a Russian public organization that does not create reserves or other forms of specially protected natural areas, but only helps the state in preparing justifications for the need for such areas. There are no borders in the nature conservation, animals do not know them; water and air currents mix regardless of administrative borders. Therefore, it is necessary to create specially protected natural areas including those with account of their location in the nearest and neighbouring countries.

You are right - the sea waters of Russia are neglected and left behind. With all their high productivity and unique biodiversity, less than 3% of the Russia's exclusive economic zone is protected. Now, there are 12 marine specially protected natural areas in the region, but according to the analysis carried out with the support of the WWF-Russia, about 25% of the marine area should be protected to ensure the conservation and representation of the marine biodiversity, as well as the sustainable functioning of marine ecosystems.

There's still something to strive for and our efforts are aimed at preserving the unique seas important for the entire planet. Some new marine specially protected areas are planned to be created as part of the ‘Ecology’ national project. This year, the ‘Medvezhyi Ostrova’ (Bear Islands) Reserve appeared in the Arctic, and I hope, the Laptevomorsky (Laptev Sea) wildlife reserve will also be created this year. From the point of view of the biodiversity conservation, the Great Siberian Polynya (opening in ice) is one of the most important places to ensure the conservation of a large number of Arctic species. In this regard, it is important to expand the ‘Severnaya Zemlya’ wildlife reserve using the adjacent water area.

In accordance with the International Convention on Biological Diversity signed by Russia, the area of marine specially protected areas by 2020 should reach 10% of the exclusive economic zone. Since 2016, the WWF has done a great job of identifying the areas most valuable for biodiversity in the Arctic seas. The development is close to completion, there is already an understanding of where in the Arctic - not only in Russia but also in other countries - it is necessary to create a network of marine protected areas. We hope that in the coming years, this plan will be implemented, and it will be supported by the Arctic Council where Russia will chair in 2021-2023.

- How is the implementation of the national ‘Ecology’ project going, what - in your opinion - is being done well, and what aspects should be improved?

It is good that one of the national projects was devoted to ecology, and the environment conservation was declared as one of the priorities. It is important now to prepare a number of long-term planning documents, such as a strategy for the certain rare species conservation, the development of specially protected natural areas. The understanding of where to raise funds for their implementation is required. I hope it will be possible to attract responsible businesses to financing the national project implementation.

- What is your assessment of the prospects for developing the ecological tourism in Russia?

The prospects are huge. Russia is a unique country and there are many destinations and attractions to visit and see like various landscapes, rare species of animals, amazing cultures and traditions. This does not mean that all ecological tourism should be focused specifically on specially protected natural areas. A lot of attractions are outside nature reserves, national parks and other types of protected areas. Therefore, developing the ecotourism depends not only on the efforts of specific protected areas, but also on the infrastructure of the region in general, on the availability of accommodation, roads. This is a complex task to be solved by local and federal authorities. And, of course, we should not forget that one of the main goals of ecotourism is to preserve the unique areas and their inhabitants, and not just attract guests.

- Do you think that specially protected natural areas should be completely isolated?

I must say that there are different categories of specially protected natural areas where different regimes operate, and not all of them take an ‘everything is forbidden’ approach. For example, there are national parks, the main task of which is developing of eco-tourism. There are certain areas where tours and recreation are allowed. If we are talking about sanctuaries and nature reserves, the green tourism can and should be developed there while meeting certain requirements. Moreover, it is necessary, but travelling must be developed very carefully and in a nature friendly way. Ecotourism allows visitors to see the amazing beauty of the pristine nature. They can feel the importance of preserving the untouched nature through the knowledge and emotions they receive there. In some cases, ecotourism can even play an important role in the biodiversity conservation, which we see in a number of foreign specially protected natural areas.

Nowadays, due to closed borders and the lockdown, we have less visitors, which has led to a significant reduction in funding. It is the money received from tourism that was used to pay the salaries to inspectors. So, the lack of tourists in the protected areas led to a sharp reduction in the inspectors’ payment and, as a result, to an increased poaching activity.

In my opinion, there is no need for complete isolation, but the presence of ecotourists in the specially protected natural areas should be very well thought, careful and cautious.

- The director of the WWF-Russia is elected for five years. What tasks would you like to solve while being in this position?

The WWF-Russia is the largest environmental organization in Russia, it is an unchallenged leader. There are two main tasks facing me as the head of the Fund - to maintain this status, to ensure that the opinion of the Fund is even more important and more often paid heed to, and that Russia can be a leader in the environmental protection.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is the world's largest independent environmental organization with 5 million supporters worldwide, operating in more than 100 countries, supporting about 1,300 environmental projects around the world. In 1994, the Russian representative office of the WWF was opened. Since then, the WWF-Russia has successfully implemented more than 1,000 field projects in 47 regions of Russia and invested over 137 mn Euro in the nature preservation and increasing the country's natural wealth. More than half of the WWF’s global budget comes from private donations.