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Established: 1932

Size: 70,500 ha (705 km2)

Buffer Zone: None

Contact information:
184040 Murmansk oblast
Kandalaksha, ul. Lineinaya 35

Tel: (7-815-33) 2-32-50, 2-23-19

Email: Kand_reserve@com.mels.ru

Kandalakshsky Zapovednik, in the Murmansk Province of northern Russia, was created in 1932 to halt the decline of the common eider, prized for its warm down feathers. Today the protected area provides refuge to bird and seal rookeries on 350 islands in the Kandalakshsky Bay of the White Sea and along the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula. In southern sections of the nature reserve, boreal forests meet the sea and forest birds feed along the shore while seabirds nest in the taiga. Moose and bear ford icy waters to explore remote islands. To the north in the Barents Sea, hardy tundra plants cover islands with a thick mattress of flowers, shrubs, and mosses. For two months in summer, the golden disk of the sun never dips below the horizon. Tens of thousands of seabirds take over small, virtually predator-free islands. In September, geese, gulls, and ducks gather up their chicks to fly south, before the long, dark winter sets in and the sun vanishes from the sky.

Photo © 2002 Igor Shpilenok

Kandalakshsky Zapovednik Images
Kandalakshsky Zapovednik Facts
Articles featuring this nature reserve in Russian Conservation News journal

Articles featuring this nature reserve in Russian Conservation News journal:

Images of Kandalakshsky Zapovednik
Click on each photo to see a large version.

© 2002 Igor Shpilenok

The oystercatcher is one of the noisiest birds in Kandalakshsky Bay.

© 2002 Igor Shpilenok

Ryashkov Island is one of hundreds of islands protected in the zapovednik.

© 2002
Igor Shpilenok

Willow grouse stays in the zapovednik year round.

© 2002
Igor Shpilenok

Dwarf cornel berries (Cornus suecia) ripen over crowberries (Empetrum nigrum).

Igor Shpilenok

Sea stars (Asterias rubens) line the coast of islands in the White Sea.


© 2002 Ivetta Tatarinkova

The zapovednik was created to protect the common eider, prized for its down.

© 2002
Igor Shpilenok

Islands in Kandalakshsky Bay have unique coastal communities.

© 2002
Igor Shpilenok

The zapovednik protects pristine boreal forest and tundra ecosystems.


Kandalakshsky Zapovednik Facts:
AnimalsVegetationGeographical FeaturesConservation StatusReferences


A mountain hare (Lepus timidus) calmly nibbles grasses in a coastal meadow of a tiny wind-swept island in Kandalakshsky Bay. Too small to support large predators, the rocky island provides refuge to hares, bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus), and hundreds of birds, which flitter noisily about. Brown bears (Ursus arctos), however, are not afraid to get wet and swim from island to island, taking advantage of unwary prey and undiscovered berry patches. The cunning fox (Vulpes vulpes) will cross newly formed ice in the fall to sneak up on imprudent rodents. In all, 54 species of mammals live on the islands and coastal mainland protected in Kandalakshsky Zapovednik.

The large Veliky Island and Kovdsky Peninsula in Kandalakshsky Bay have full assemblages of northern boreal species. The ranges of several forest-dwelling large predators overlap with these parts of the reserve, and occasionally they come here to hunt or to raise their young. Wolverine (Gulo gulo), lynx (Felis lynx), and wolf (Canis lupus) are not uncommon, but they generally do not reside here permanently. However, two or three bears do live on Veliky Island and the surrounding area. Other predators include pine marten (Martes martes), ermine (Mustela erminea), weasel (M. nivalis), and the acclimated European mink (M. lutreola). Their numbers depend on populations of various rodents, but never are they numerous in the zapovednik. Moose (Alces alces) make seasonal migrations to the area, thus their numbers here are constantly changing. Muskrats (Ondatra zibethica) live in lakes with rich vegetation.

The islands of Kandalakshsky Bay and the Barents Sea coast provide protection to breeding seals, which form rookeries when the ice begins to melt. Kandalakshsky Bay is home to the bearded and ringed seals (Erignatus barbatus, Phoca hispida). Several dozen of the large bearded seals linger in shallow waters of Kandalakshsky Bay, where they feed on benthic invertebrates. The smaller ringed seals prefer deeper waters where they hunt for fish. The rare gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) is found in the zapovednik only in the Barents Sea. Though whales sometimes swim into the coastal waters of the reserve, only the white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is found in significant numbers — several dozen can reside in Kandalakshsky Bay at any one time, and several hundred in the Barents Sea. Other marine mammal visitors to the zapovednik are Greenland seal (Histriophoca groenlandica), white-sided and white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus, L. albirostris), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus),finback whale (B. physalus), fish whale (B. borealis), bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), and humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), most of which are rare in the region.

Perhaps the most important function of the Kandalakshsky Zapovednik is protecting colonies of nesting sea birds on hundreds of marine islands and coastal rookeries. Included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, the zapovednik was created originally to protect the common eider (Somateria mollissima), whose prized down was collected and exported during much of the 19th century. The zapovednik has helped eider populations stabilize in the 20th century: the number of nesting pairs of eiders fluctuated between 2,500 and 4,500 from 1951 to 1968, and increased to 5-8,000 pairs by the 1980s. Eiders prefer small islands free of predators. Yet, when eiders are frightened from their nests, herring gulls (Larus argentatus) quickly devour their eggs and newborn chicks.

Small islands and coastal areas that lack trees in Kandalakshsky Bay are heavily populated with noisy bird colonies. Common oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea), mew gull (Larus canus), and eiders are the most numerous species here. Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) fly noisy about. White-tailed sea-eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) circle the islands from above.

On the northern coast of the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea, the Seven Islands (Sem ostrovov) and Ainovy Island archipelagos teem with avian life. The noise from large concentrations of as many as 50 species of birds can be deafening. Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and thin- and thick-billed murres (Uria aalge, U. lomvia) form large, noisy nesting colonies with tens of thousands of pairs. The birds’ feces provide nutrients for plants and aquatic invertebrates. Murres occupy the largest ledges, while kittiwakes and eiders stay on the outskirts of the noisy colonies. Razorbills (Alca torda) prefer semi-protected niches of cliffs. Murres and razorbills don’t actually make nests, but lay only one egg, insulating it between their feet and their abdomen. Black-legged kittiwakes, on the other hand, build large, heavy nests, sometimes on impossibly narrow ledges.

On the Ainovy Island Archipelago, gulls are the most numerous of the 25 species nesting in bird rookeries, in particular the great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) and mew gull.

Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) and eiders also nest here in abundance. Some smaller birds nesting on the tundra islands are snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), Lapland bunting (Calcarius lapponicus), meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis), and redwing (Turdus iliacus).

Forest-dwelling birds found in the pine and spruce forests in the southern sections of the zapovednik include capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia), and willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus). The knocking of woodpeckers (Dendrocopos spp. and others) and piercing cries of ravens and crows (Corvus spp.) and Siberian jays (Cractes infaustus) are commonly heard in forests. Willow tit (Parus montanus) is one of the most numerous inhabitants of winter forests.

In all, there are more than 270 species of birds in the zapovednik. Rare birds included in the Russia Red Book are: yellow-billed loon (Gavia adamsi), European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), Bewick’s swan (Cygnus bewickii), white-tailed sea-eagle, osprey (Pandion haliaetus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), and eagle owl (Bubo bubo)

Two species of reptiles (Lacerta vivipara, Vipera berus) and three species of amphibians (Rana temporaria, R. arvalis, Bufo bufo) are found in the zapovednik, mostly on the mainland and Veliky Island.

While there are 30 species of fish in Kandalakshsky Bay, only a few species are numerous: Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), Atlantic herring (Cluea harengus), river flounder (Platichthys flesus), and polar flounder (Pleuronectes platessa). Numbers of tittlebat (Gasterosteus aculeatus), a small fish that used to be quite numerous and supported bird and fish populations, began to decline sharply in the early 1960s and never recovered. Bulltrout (Salmo trutta) is found in deep lakes on the islands. Both bulltrout and European smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) live in salt water but swim into streams and lakes to spawn.

Acorn barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides) are abundant marine organisms on the sea bottom, clinging to lime in the sediments. Ten species of shrimps are found in the coastal waters along with 558 other species of marine invertebrates.



Kandalakshsky Zapovednik is spread out over more than 350 islands in Kandalakshsky Bay in the White Sea and the coastal region of the Barents Sea, thus many different habitat types are represented. Tundra ecosystems are found on the island archipelagos along the northern edge of the Kola Peninsula — the Ainovy, Gavrilovsky, and Seven Island (Sem ostrovov) archipelagos. The Kandalakshskie Shkhery, Porya Cove, and Turiy Cape sections of the reserve are covered with forests made up primarily of dark coniferous forests. Northern boreal forest communities occupy 80 percent of the zapovednik, and most of these are pine forests, such as those on the Kovdsky Peninsula. Coniferous species are mixed with birch (Betula spp.), aspen (Populus tremula), and other deciduous species. The species of pine, referred to as Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) in areas to the south, is sometimes classified as a different species — Lapland or Friza pine (P. friesiana). This pine has shorter needles than Scotch pine, but the needles are more numerous and remain on the tree two to three times longer. These weather-hardy pines can grow in a variety of difficult conditions, clinging to cracks in cliffs on rocky, wind-swept islands. The ground cover in pine forests is made up of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and cowberry (V. vitis-idae) surrounded by a thick carpet of mosses, which gives way only as the forest nears the coast.

Spruce forests occupy about one-fifth of the zapovednik, generally preferring areas where soils are richer and sufficiently moist. Spruce stands are generally higher than pines. The Finnish spruce (Picea fennica) is a hybrid between Norway (Picea abies) and Siberian spruces (Picea obovata). Mosses and berry bushes are found in the understory.

Narrow bands of coastal meadows, swatches of tundra, bare rock, and swamps break up the forest cover on islands in Kandalakshsky Bay. Lichens grow on rocks, gradually eroding the rock surface and creating suitable soil conditions for higher plants, including pines, to take root. Coastal meadows are made up of grasses such as red fescue (Festuca rubra), vernal grass (Anthoxantum alpinum), meadow grass (Poa spp.), buttercup (Ranunculus acris and others), sorrel (Rumex thyrsiflorus and others), wood geranium (Geranium sylvaticum), and superb pink (Dianthus superbus). Seaside plantain (Plantago maritima) and sea aster (Aster tripolium) grow along the tidemark.

Swamps cover about 12 percent of reserve, usually found in flat depressions and areas with poor drainage. Sedge (Carex) and cottongrass (Eriophorum) swamps have plant communities made up of marsh cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), rush (Juncus spp.), and others. Shrub dominated swamps have heather (Calluna vulgaris), cranberry (Oxycoccos palustris), and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.) is prevalent in swampy areas and marsh tea (Ledum palustre), blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), and bilberry grow on hummocks.

On the Barents Sea coast, many of the islands are small outcrops of granite. Soft mats of rose-root stone-crop (Rhodiola rosea) carpet the tundra, tangled with cloudberry and crowberry (Empetrum hermaphroditum). The delicate pink flowers of bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) and white blossoms of starflower (Trientalis europaea) color the tundra. Shrubs and dwarf trees eke out a living in these harsh conditions. Dry, wind-swept areas are covered with lichens, while moist areas have mosses and meadow grasses. Creeping trees with short stalks lie close to the ground like juniper (Juniperus sibirica), and more rarely pine, spruce, aspen, and birch. The Lapland cinquefoil (Potentilla lapponica) is an endemic of Kola Peninsula.

Turiy Cape, where rocky cliffs rise 100 meters above the crashing sea, harbors unique cliff vegetation. Many rare species for Murmansk Province are found here as well as narrow endemics found only on the beaches of the cape — Taraxacum leucoglossum and Helianthemum arcticum. Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria), another endemic to the region, is a leaf shaped lichen that grows on the bark of deciduous trees and sometimes on conifers. Sensitive to pollution, it is a good indicator of air quality. Rare and endangered plants listed in the Russian Red Book include Carex livida, Cypripedium calceolus, Calypso bulbosa, and Draba insularis.

The seafloor is covered mainly with algae seaweeds such as bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculous, F. serratur) and sweet wrack (Laminaria saccharina) from 10 to 15 meters in depth. A variety of red algae (Rhodophycophyta spp.) grow in deeper waters from 20 to 25 meters. In all, there are 300 species of lichens, 385 species of fungi, 587 higher plants, and 200 kinds of aquatic algae in the zapovednik.


Geographical Features

Kandalakshsky Zapovednik protects more than 350 islands in Murmansk Province on the coast of the Barents Sea and in Kankalakshsky Bay of the White Sea. The main sections of the zapovednik are: Ainovy Islands, Gavrilovsky and Seven Island (Sem ostrovov) archipelagos on the shore of the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea; Kandalakshskie Shkhery in the northwestern corner of Kandalakshsky Bay; Kovdsky Peninsula on the southwestern edge of the bay; and Porya Cove and Turiy Cape on the northern shore of the Kandalakshsky Bay. Of the 70,500 hectares in the zapovednik, 70 percent is aquatic habitat.

The Kandalakshsky Bay extends from the main basin of the White Sea towards the northwest and is situated almost entirely within the Arctic Circle. Depths in the bay exceed 200 m, making it the deepest part of the White Sea. Mountains head off the bay to the north and boreal forests meet the sea. The tops of mountains are bare and smooth, evidence of the work of glacial processes.

Rivers and lakes are not numerous in the zapovednik. The largest lakes, Serkinskoye on Turiy Cape and Big Kumyazhe on Veliky Island, occupy 33-34 ha, and have a maximum depth of 10 meters. Other lakes are significantly smaller.

Winter is long and severe on the Kola Peninsula, lasting from October to April and even May. June brings spring, and summer is quick to follow. Cold winds blow in September and bring chilly rains. The White Sea begins to freeze over, though not completely, from October to December. The climate is warmer than the latitude would suggest due to warm oceanic currents in the Barents Sea. The average temperature in January is —8oC on the Barents Sea coast, while July temperatures average +8oC. About 600 mm of precipitation falls annually. The length of polar day (when the sun doesn’t set) and polar night (when the sun doesn’t rise) varies depending on latitude — reaching two months in the northern sections of the reserve.


Conservation Status

The first section of Kandalakshsky Zapovednik was set aside in 1932 to protect nesting colonies of the common eider in the inner corner of Kandalakshsky Bay. The eider’s prized down was collected for centuries and exported mostly to foreign markets. Eider populations suffered, because in addition to collecting down from the nests, people collected eggs and often killed the birds. Established first as a game reserve in 1932, the territory was granted federal strictly protected status in 1939. The territory of the zapovednik began to expand gradually, while protection measures and scientific monitoring became more systematic. In 1940, Veliky Island, a large island covered with boreal forests, was included in the zapovednik. In 1951, islands from the Barents Sea were included in the reserve — Ainovy Islands in the western part of Murmansk Province, and the Seven Islands (Sem ostrovov), the latter having been a separate zapovednik since 1938. From 1960-1970, a number of other islands in the Kandalakshsky Bay were granted protected status in the zapovednik, as well as mainland territories and adjacent marine ecosystems. New sections were included on the Barents Sea side also during this time.

Scientific research has been carried out in the zapovednik since the early 1930s. Data has been systematically entered into the "Chronicles of Nature" since 1939, making this an important source of information on population dynamics of rare and common plant and animal species and the state of ecosystems.

Today, the main goal of the zapovednik is to protect and study natural ecosystems of marine islands and coastal areas, as well as communities of the marine bottom in the bay. Though there are few anthropogenic impacts today, large-scale logging and mineral exploration were carried out on Turiy Cape until the section was included in the zapovednik in 1977. More than 30 ha of forests were clearcut, impacting the cape’s unique and endemic communities.

A striking feature of island shores is the collection of a mass amount of drift wood lost from floating timber. The timber litters the shores of almost all the islands and coastal mainland areas, in some places forming serious obstructions.

Though there have not been any large oil spills, waters in the upper parts of Kandalakshsky Bay are somewhat polluted with oil products, impacting some seabirds, mostly eiders, gulls, and black guillemots (Cepphus grylle). In the 1980s, more than 300 dead birds were collected. Marine invertebrates also suffer from oil pollution.

Human presence in the Kola Peninsula region dates back thousands of years. Remains of settlements from 2,500 BC were found on the coast near Seven Islands in the zapovednik.



Sokolov, V.E. and E.E. Syroechkovsky, eds. Zapovedniks of the USSR: Western European Part of Russia I. Mysl publishing agency, Moscow, 1988.

Zabelina, N.M, L.S. Isaeva-Petrova, and L.V. Kuleshova. Zapovedniks and National Parks of Russia. Logata. Moscow, 1998.

Text prepared by Laura Williams.

Ivetta Tatarinkovaz, who photographed the common eider above, has worked as a scientist at Kandalakshsky Zapovednik for 38 years.



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