In the beginning of July 2017 Russian Geographical Society (RGO) announced the start of an all-Russian contest to take part in a new volunteer camp – The Commander Islands 2017. Three winners – Sergey Fomenko, Roman Andreev and Ilya Kolentsionok – arrived on Bering Island on August 12 to help the employees of the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve. Several days before their departure they shared some stories and achievements during their stay on the islands.
The main goal of the volunteers was to help in the development of the reserve territory. Sergey, Roman and Ilya prepared new cabins on Peresheek, Staraya Gavan and Lisinskaya Bays for winter and installed the sign posts. They also worked with one of the show-pieces of the future visit-center museum: they cleared out a trade boat covered by sand. In the free time they went on excursions to Toporkov Island and Severnoye rookery of marine mammals. When going to the cabins by boat, they saw a humpback whale jumping out of the water... What was the most fascinating thing for them?
Sergey Fomenko, Roman Andreev and Ilya Kolentsionok dig the boat out. Photo by Eduard Chekalsky
“The most precious thing on the island is people,” said Engineer and Geologist Sergey Fomenko, “People here are friendly, sociable and cheerful. They are always ready to help, to share what they have. It was great to get to know the team of the reserve. It is a real team working. For example, the signpost on road fork to Severo-Zapadnoye and Severnoye rookeries of marine mammals was installed by a whole group of people, which included us and the employees of the reserve. Even Deputy Director for Science and head of the Protection Department took part. The next day Deputy Director for Science Evgeny Mamaev organized an excursion for us to Severnoye rookery. He spoke about flora and fauna of the islands, managing to take pictures and count sea lions at the same time. We felt his dedication to his work and his love for the islands. For me the most interesting piece of information was about orca whales, may be because to see whales and especially orcas was my dream, which came true on the Commander Islands.
RGO volunteers on excursion to Toporkov Island. Photo by Sergey Fomenko
We contributed a bit to the work of the Scientific Department: the photos of reindeers, which we took during the trip to the cabins, will help the scientists to count the population. We used the most calm and sunny day to climb to the second highest mount on the island. A herd of reindeers stood just near us and one of them was absolutely white. There was no fog and we saw nearly the whole Medny Island from there, which is more than 50 kilometers away.”
The stairs to the Peresheek scientific base, made by the volunteers. Photo by Sergey Fomenko
“When you see seals swimming by, it is pleasant to work,” said Biology and Geography Teacher, Guide Ilya Kolentsionok. “We worked to equip cabins in the internal part of the island with pristine nature and beautiful landscapes around. The animals let us approach really close. Seals followed us along the shore 10 meters away and watched us. We still don’t know who was more interested, people or the seals. At the same time I was positively surprised by the level of development of the village and especially of the visit-center of the reserve. I had been sure, that I was going to the wilderness with huts and no signs of civilization. Instead I live in a modern building with comfortable shower units, electrical stove, microwave and wi-fi. The technical, scientific and day-to-day infrastructure inspired respect in me.
I missed sun and watermelons. I am from Volgograd. In august it is +40 ̊C there and here 15 ̊ is regarded as hot weather. Nevertheless, sunny days – and we had several during the stay – feel really good.”
The volunteers covered the cabin with enamel and attached the sign to it. Photo by Sergey Fomenko
“The Commander Islands have an unbelievable biodiversity” was the first thing Roman Andreyev, 4th year student of Moscow State University Geographical School, said. “I dreamed to see an orca whale and saw it. I was impressed by the salmon spawning and by the river full of fish. Seals, herbs. I will remember tundra, especially going through a marshland. You see only a tiny paddle, but in fact it is a half a meter deep pit. I managed to fall into these three times. Not everything went smooth for me here. I was slightly depressed because of the approximate Aleut minimum, which causes constant clouds and fogs. It was hard to be so far away from home. I am used to control my day-to-day life, to solve the occurring problems. Here the only thing I can do is to call. On the other hand, it is interesting to be here, to walk around the island, to observe the rivers. I have never been on lands formed by ancient volcanic activity.”
Our team is sad to know, that our new friends have to leave soon, but we will remember their stay with warmth in the heart and gratitude for the fruits of their work.
Volunteers at work. Photo by Ilya Kolentsionok
The help of the volunteers is very important for our reserve. Friends of the Commander Islands Reserve live in many cities and towns of Russia. They participate in organization of photo-shows and festivals, make creative projects, share their talents, ideas and love for nature. A large part of them cooperate with the reserve remotely. For volunteer work on the territory we mainly invite students, specialists in biology or people recommended by other reserves or national parks. Unfortunately, our reserve cannot cover the travel costs. If you want to become a volunteer in the Commander Islands Reserve and you know how you can contribute to our work or you do not know, but have many skills and talents, please, contact us on email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always ready to find new friends!
Sunset. Photo by Sergey Fomenko
Head photo by Sergey Fomenko