GNF - Baikal Seal in Focus

Nerpa in Focus at Baikal Lake, Russia


Club Firn, the Lake Baikal’s partner in the Living Lakes network, has been undertaking an initiative focused on sustaining the population of seals in cooperation with the travel company Firn-Travel and the Zabaikalskiy National Park. The main tasks of this project are building cooperation between relevant organizations and optimizing visitation management at the main seals’ rokeries in Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal and the Baikal Seal (Nerpa)

The Baikal Seal (Phoca sibirica), the so called Nerpa, is the crown of the Siberian lake’s great ecosystem. More than 2,000 kinds of living organisms inhabit Lake Baikal region, and of these only one is a mammal – the Baikal Seal. This animal is endemic to Lake Baikal, one of three types of freshwater seals in the world (in addition to the Ladoga Seal and Saimaa Seal). Data about the number of Baikal Nerpas is highly contradictory; counts range from 70,000 to 110,000. Although the Nerpa is not part of endangered species lists, it is worthy of special attention and conservation measures.


Lake Baikal has a unique archipelago consisting of four small islands, which are called the Ushkani Islands. These pristine islands deservingly fall under the strict control of the Zabaikalskiy National Park. The islands are a distinctive resort, where on quiet sunny days nerpa like to sunbathe on its rocky shores, forming a whole colony which can number up to a few hundred. Because of this unique spectacle, the islands draw hundreds of tourists who love nature and want to observe the likeable, charming Nerpa in its natural environment.


Conservation and Tourism

Visits to the Ushkani Islands are strictly limited by the Zaibaikalskiy National Park. One of the most important means of protection for Nerpa’s population, in addition to putting an end to poaching, is the conservation of these animals’ permanent rokeries. It is not an easy task for a national park to balance tourism development with conserving unique natural environments. Club Firn and the tourist company Firn Travel, which are engaged in promoting sustainable ecological tourism on Lake Baikal, have partnered with the Zabaikalsky National Park on a project to make tourists’ visits to Nerpa colonies more environmentally friendly and at the same time informative and enjoyable.

Joint Project

With the financial support of GNF, Club Firn is conducting on-the-ground work to promote the protection of the Baikal Seals. Volunteers from Firn are assisting the national park in equipping nerpa observation grounds on the Ushkaniy Islands. Through a camouflaged net it is easy to watch the animals lying on the rocks and at the same time remain hidden from their sight. Informational signs to promote project objectives have been prominently placed; increasing public awareness is an important aspect of ecological tourism. As a part of the project, a training program will be conducted for park employees on working effectively with visitors.

Wise Management

Through wise visitation management, the harm to a site from a group of ten people can be less than from one reckless and ignorant tourist. Unauthorized visits to the islands by wilderness "fans" inflict significant harm on the island ecosystem and disrupt the peace of the animals on the rokeries. Visiting the Ushkani Islands is only allowed with the written permission from the director or vice-director of the Zabaikalsky National Park. As a part of Club Firn and Firn Travel tours to the Ushkany Islands, special attention is focused on nerpa protection measures; moreover, they are working proactively to sensitize their colleagues at tour business operators to the issues at stake and to promote their observance of wise visitation regulations.


Successes and challenges

Through awareness raising, PR campaign measures and partnership initiatives with stakeholders, project organizers are promoting concerted action and a comprehensive approach to Nerpa protection. The project has involved youth from local communities in Ulan-Ude and areas near Lake Baikal; government representatives responsible for Nerpa protection; scientists studying Nerpa protection and sustainable development; and tour operators in the Lake Baikal area and in Germany.


The project has two main components

  •  promotion of the awareness in local communities in Buryatia, particularly among youth, about the protection of the unique Baikal Nerpa and its environment, and
  • partnership and collaboration between scientists, government and civil society in studying and protecting the Nerpa.


The volunteers work established already in 2005 to improve the infrastructure in Bolshoy Chivyrkuy bay facilitated the security activities of regional sea inspectors. The photo safari organized by the tourist company Firn Travel in the spring 2006 offered an alternative to the hunt and became an opportunity to unite the friends of the lake and the travel companies striving for preserving the biodiversity at Lake Baikal.


In 2007 the Nerpa Information Center has been created on the territory of the Zabaikalskiy National Park. The center shelters a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Baikal Seal. The aim of the exhibition is to promote the protection of the Nerpa, to disseminate the ecological knowledge among people and to give them the sense of a tender handling of natural resources.


A travelling exhibition about Nerpa has been created by the Club Firn in 2008 involving the “Nerpa Day” festival. The travelling exhibition stimulates interest among local communities both in Ulan-Ude and in rural communities in Buryatia on this unique species as well as the comprehension of the need for its protection. The project was presented at the Reisepavillon, the Alternative Tourism Trade Fair in Stuttgart to interested stakeholders in Germany. A series of presentations and meetings to stimulate international interest and establish new partnership in promoting the development of Baikal Seals eco-tourism was conducted. The alternative tourism fair has helped our partners to reach the target audience of international tour operators interested in sustainable tourism.


In April, 2008 a three-day promotional Nerpa photo-tour to the Zabaikalsky National Park (also presented at the Reisepavillon, Alternative Tourism Trade Fair in Stuttgart) for tour operators and stakeholders from Buryatia and Irkutsk as well as international participants (Germany) was conducted. Occurrences in the media (internet, newspaper, radio, TV) related to the project activities were registered during the whole project period. The creation of a coloring book – “Nerpa is the Child of Baikal” for preschool and early elementary school children is scheduled for the year 2009. The book will raise awareness of the unique endemic species of Lake Baikal – the Nerpa, its habitat, and problems it faces among the youngest members of local communities in Buryatia. The Nerpa souvenir creation workshops are being conducted for children giving them the opportunity to build skills in souvenir creation and open the door for future work in micro-enterprise and local economic development related to eco-tourism, at the same time enhancing the awareness of the ecological situation and connecting the youth to environmental protection. Due to the little demand for Nerpa skins the problem of Nerpa poaching is not so acute at the moment, but the need for alternative sources of income for the local population is still very urgent. More efforts should be putted into marketing of sustainable tourism at Lake Baikal in order to enlarge the number of tourist visits and into improving local tourist infrastructure. We offer a cooperation possibility to all who shares our intentions to guarantee the preservation of Lake Baikal biodiversity and to protect the unique Baikal Seal - Nerpa.

Please find further information about Lake Baikal on a separate page on our website.

 Information Board
 Baikal Seals at Lake Baikal
 Eco trail at Lake Baikal
 Information board
 Clear water as habitat for the Baikal Seals

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2005 – 2012