Ramsar site management plans -- Russian Federation, Karaginsky Island

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Geographical location:

Karaginsky Island is in the western part of the Bering Sea, at the northeastern coast of Kamchatka peninsula (the Koryak Autonomous Area, Karaginsky rayon). The distance from the rayon centre (Ossora village) is 55 km (Fig. 1, 4).

Geographical coordinates: 58° 28' – 59° 16' N; 163° 24' – 164° 22' E.

Wetland area: 193,597 hectares

Altitude: 0 - 434 m above sea level

Wetland types:
According to the Ramsar classification – A, D, F, G, E, M, O
According to the Russian classification –,,,,

Criteria for including into the list: 1a, 2a, 3a. The major criterion (3a) is an area of mass waterfowl aggregations.

Brief characteristics: Karaginsky Island with 2-km coastal zone is of great importance for conserving migratory birds and their habitats. The river mouth is an area of moulting of waterfowl; rocky terrains are grounds for bird colonies.




Winter (from setting the snow cover to snow melting) lasts about 7 months. About three fourth of precipitation falls as snow. The mean February air temperature is - 11° C only on the island, usually it is lower. The absolute minimum is - 18.9° C. In some years, snowstorms are frequent in winter (39 - 42 snowstorm days, sometimes, > 90 days). Snow melts at the period from May 15 to June 7, in some years much later. Even in July some stream valleys are packed with snow to a depth of 5 m. Large snow blankets are kept on mountain slopes to the new snow.

In summer mists are frequent on the eastern side of the island. The mean June and July temperatures are +11.7° C and +11.8° C, respectively. The day temperature seldom exceeds +14° C. Frost-free period is 101 days (Reference book on climate of the USSR, 1970. 27, I, III, V parts).


Karaginsky Island is located in the western part of the Bering Sea, at the northeastern coast of Kamchatka peninsula. The Straight of Litke of 40-50 km wide separates the island from the peninsula. The length of the island from Golenishchev cape on the north to Krasheninnikov cape on the south is 111 km, its greatest width is 45 km, and area is 2,000 sq.km.

The island is divided into 2 almost equal parts, which are very different in topography: western and eastern. The first is a plain of marine origin and consists of several sea terraces. This plain is dissected by rivers and represents flattop hills, the elevation of which is not more than 100 m above sea level. The shoreline of northwestern and western coasts of the island is smooth; there are no large gulfs, except the Bay of Lozhnykh vestei that is formed by Lekalo bar. The mountain part of the island is composed of three ridges. The largest Central ridge extends from north to south as a narrow (3-6 km) monolithic one of 30 km long. The highest mountain of the island is Vysokaya (912 m). The eastern and southeastern coasts have indented shoreline with a number of small bays and gulfs. The only large Severnaya Bay permits sea crafts to approach the island from its eastern side. The rest 120 km of the coast, which is abundant in cliffs and reefs, do not allow sea boats to land.

The branched river network of Karaginsky Island includes 1,105 rivers and streams. A rather high water level in the rivers is kept for the whole summer. Alimentation of rivers is provided mostly by atmospheric precipitation. However, there are some springs in the plain of the island. The largest river of the island is the Maminkvayam with the catchment basin of 100 sq. km. The right long and branched tributaries of the Maminkvayam flow mostly over the plain. In the upper reaches they are of mountain type: shallow with fast current, many rapids and rifts. They run in narrow and rocky valleys. When the rivers run on the plain, their flow becomes lower, and they form branches, islands, and shallows. In summer in the middle Maminkvayam reaches, the depth is 1-1.2 m,;in the lower reaches, the depth is about 1.5 m (Yudin, Grinchenko, 1952).

The second large river of the island, the Gnunvayam, is of 22 km long with a catchment basin area of 80-85 sq. km. It flows through the elevated plain and has a valley with bluffs. Only in the mouth before falling into the Litke Straight the river current is slowed down. The mean river depth here is 1.2-1.5 m, in some places, 3 m.

The third river falling into the Litke Straight is the Markelovskaya River of 17 km long. The catchment basin area is 100 sq. km. The river rises in the eastern mountain ridge, runs over depression between ridges, and at the mouth it may be referred to the type of plain rivers.

The rest island rivers are smaller than those mentioned above in length and catchment basin area. They are mountain rivers with rapids and rifts. In summer, when snow melts in the mountains, the water level rises in daytime, at nights it is lowered. In the lower reaches the rivers have different depths depending on high and low tides. Besides, many streams and rills dissect the coast of Karaginsky Island.

Sea bars at mouths of the Maminkvayam and Markelovskaya Rivers form vast shallow lagoons, the water level of which ranges: in high tide they are full-flowing, in low water shallow. Sometimes the Markelovskaya River lagoon is entirely drained.

The El’navan River lagoon of 15-20 km long extending inland Yuzhnyi peninsula is connected with the sea only during high tides. Its water is fresh, the water level ranges moderately. In reality, this lagoon is a lake.

Hundreds of lakes occupy 0.5% of the Karaginsky Island area. Couples with River branches and coastal water pools, lakes and wetlands are of exclusive value for waterfowl reproduction.



According to the geobotanic zoning, Karaginsky Island belongs to the Beringian forest-tundra region (Kolesnikov, 1961). In the authors’ opinion, that have given a more complete floristic review of the island vegetation (Barkalov et al., 1986), this territory should be referred to the North-Pacific meadow-deciduous forest region due to the presence of Betula ermanii forests and tall grass vegetation on the flat interfluve.


The major source that describes the island flora is a publication of V.Yu.Barkalov et al. (1986). This work describes 490 vascular plant species (according to the present ideas, their number is smaller since the authors differently consider the species volume). Table 1 shows the species composition of large families of the island flora.

Table 1: Species composition of large plant families in the flora of Karaginsky Island

No. Family Number of species in the flora Position by species number
1 Poaceae 61 1
2 Cyperaceae 33 2-3
3 Asteraceae 33 2-3
4 Rosaceae 28 4
5 Ranunculaceae 18 5
6 Salicaceae 13 6
7 Ericaceae 11 7-8
8 Brassicaceae 11 7-8
9 Scrophulariaceae 9 9-13
10 Caryophyllaceae 9 9-13
11 Polygonaceae 9 9-13
12 Apiaceae 9 9-13
13 Juncaceae 9 9-13





The territory of Karaginsky Island was never considered as reindeer pastures (domestic reindeer was brought here not so long ago), therefore, there is no information regarding them. (The major sources of the information about vegetation of the KAO are materials of the Angara expedition). The main information of the island vegetation is given in publications of A.S.Plotnikov, N.V.Trulevich (1974), and V.Yu.Barkalov et al. (1986).

Betula ermanii forests of park type grow mostly on sea terraces and foothills of the western part of the island, from Pereval Mountain to Vysokaya Mountain over a space of 50 km. They occupy elevations from 20 to 280 m above sea level, their area is about 1% of the total territory. The major plant formations composing landscapes of the island are dwarf shrub hummock tundra (the most widespread tundra are dwarf shrub- lichen, short grass meadow, heather, and crowberry that cover about half of the area) and Siberian dwarf-pine and alder elfin woods. The Siberian dwarf-pine (Pinus pumila) predominates, forming thickets on more drained terrain, especially in middle and upper parts of the subalpine belt, to an elevation of 700 m above sea level. Dense alder (Alnus fruticosa) thickets (shrubby alder and elfin woods) occupy predominantly narrow creek valleys of the northern part of the island. They also occur in the lower portion of the subalpine belt. In the alpine belt (more than 700 m above sea level) mountain tundra predominates. Just this belt is characterised by mosaic and complex plant communities with diverse species composition due to contrast conditions and diverse topography. Here, there occur patches of sedge-cotton grass hummock tundra vegetation with Eriophorum vaginatum and Carex lugens as dominants and sphagnum bogs with Andromeda polifolia and Saxifraga hirculus. On patches formed due to snow thawing, scarce nival groups composed of alpine and arctoalpine forbs (Juncus beringensis, Primula cuneifolia, Anemone sibirica, veronica grandiflora, Lloydia serotina, and oth.) are common. On drained substrate at snow patches and stream banks, the nival small meadows occur with dominance of Carex koraginensis, C. micropoda, C. eleusinoides, Trisetum spicatum, Pedicularis oederi, Valeriana capitata, Artemisia tilesii, and oth. Scarce petrophytic groups composed of Papaver microcarpum, Thalspi kamtschaticum, Emania parryodes, Dianthus repens, Astragalus alpinus are present on friable gravel substrates on hill slopes in the subalpine and alpine belts and on cliffs are grown with.

Communities of coastal halophytes are characteristic of the sandy and gravel seashore. On slopes of marine terraces and in inland areas, the forb and grass-forb meadows prevail. At the large river mouths one can meet wattens (mud flats) – saline meadows regularly flooding during high tides. On flat terrain of marine terraces, flat wet watersheds, and gentle slopes of river valleys, sedge and sphagnum bogs are common, in some places lakes are abundant. Thickets of Salix alaxensis, S. pulchra, S. lanata, and S. fuscescens occupy river valleys and depressions on flat coasts.


Betula ermanii forests. Betula ermanii forests of park type (stocking 0.3-0.4) are typical for eastern Kamchatka. The undergrowth consists of Sorbus sambucifolia and Pinus pumila. In the grass cover Calamagrostis langsdorffii prevails, common plants are Maianthemum dilatum, Veratrum oxysepalum, Iris setosa, and Athyrium filix-femina, and oth.

Shrub and dwarf shrub tundra. Flat areas of marine terraces are covered with tundra communities dominated by Pinus pumila and Alnus fruiticosa and some other shrubs as an admixture. Heather tundra with domination of Empetrum nigrum, Phyllodoce caerulea, Rhododendron aureum and others are confined to drained elevations of watersheds.

Elfin woods. Alder elfin woods (wood-reed - fern with Calamagrostis purpurea and Dryopteris expansa) are typical for the site. The data regarding Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods is absent.

Mountain tundra. Grass-dwarf shrub-lichen tundra prevails in the mountains. Their dominants are heather and Cladonia lichens. In saddles, weakly drained slopes and stream banks, moss-dwarf shrub-grass tundra develops with green moss and sphagnum as well as with willows (Salix arctica, S. sphenophylla, S. reticulata) and sedges (Carex fuscidula, C. rotundata, C. lugens, C. rariflora, and oth.). Bald mountain slopes remain without snow in winter because it is blown off. Heather tundra occupies these areas, whereas the sites well snow-protected are occupied by short-grass meadow tundra with diverse species composition without distinct dominants.

Sandy and gravel coasts, dunes. The coastal 10-15-m breaker zone is unvegetated. The next from the sea is a belt of scattered supralittoral halophytic vegetation represented by Senecio preudoarnica, Honckenya oblongifolia, Mertensia maritima, and Lathyrus japonicus with a projective coverage about 15%. The sandy coastal swells are covered with lyme-grass meadows composed of only Leymus mollis (projective coverage 30%) or with the admixture of the halophytes mentioned above and forbs (Ligusticum scoticum, Geranium erianthum, Chamerion angustifolium, Chamaepericlymenum, and oth.).

Mud flats (wattens). In the silt areas, at mouths of large rivers regularly flooding during high tide, the meadows with dominance of tussock Carex are widespread. Among other species are Puccinellia phryganodes, Carex cryptocarpa, and others. On the bottom of dry lagoons and in depressions, some patches of Agrostis clavata occur. On the loamy soils, which are saline due to seawater, Atriplex gmelinii, Cochlearia officinalis, and Potentilla stolonifera are common.

Bogs. Grass-dwarf shrub-moss bogs occupy river floodplains, lowlands of the seacoast, and wet territories of watersheds. In many cases, Salix fuscescens is the dominant (projective coverage 80%). Typical plants are Betula exilis, Andromeda polifolia, Ledum decumbens, Oxycoccus palustris, O. microcarpus, and Vaccinium uliginosum (25%).

Among sedges, Carex appendiculata, C. cryptocarpa, C. cinerea, C. rariflora (10-15%) predominate. Parnassia palustris, Comarum palustre, Equsetum palustre, Iris setosa, Rubus arcticus, Pedicularis labradorica, Polemonium campanulatum, Trientalis europaea s.l., Galium trifidum, and others (projective coverage 3-8 %) represent bog forbs. Sphagnum bogs develop on smaller areas and occur mostly on watersheds in the central part of the island. Their dominant is sphagnum moss; among fobs are Rubus chamaemorus, Drosera rotundifolia, Carex globularis, C. gynocrates, Pinquicula villosa, and others.

Boggy tundra occupies relatively small areas on the island in lower parts of river valley slopes or in the mountains or wet watersheds. Hummocks are characteristic of the valley microrelief. They can reach a height of 60 cm and diameter of 1 m. Vaccinium uliginosum (projective coverage 60 %); Empetrum nigrum s.l. (30 %), Betula exilis, Lonicera caerulea, Loiseleuria procumbens, Ledum decumbens, and Spiraea beauverdiana are abundant on hummocks. The space between hummocks is grown with grasses and forb (Calamagrostis purpurea, Chamerion angustifolium, Carex globularis, and oth. In the mountains sedge tundras with Carex lugens, Eriophorum vaginatum, and E. polystachyon predominate.

Wet meadows occur in the lower parts of slopes and in depressions of river valleys. Forb-grass meadows are dominated by sedges (Carex cryptocarpa, C. diastena, C. stans, and others). Cardamine pratensis, Calamagrostis purpurea s.l., Arctophila fulva, Cicuta virosa, and Angelica genuflexa are also representatives of the meadow grass cover. In wet meadows willow thickets are common (Salix pulchra, S. lanata, S. fuscescens, and S. chamissonis). In well-drained sites wood-reed and wood-reed-forb meadows develop with the dominant Calamagrostis purpurea s.l. Among other plants are Cirsium kamtschaticum, Cacalia hastata, Veratrum oxysepalum, Chamerion angustifolium, and Delphinium brachycentrum.

Lakes. Aquatic vegetation is mainly represented by Potamogeton natans, Sparganium hyperboreum, Hippuris vulgaris, Menyantha trifoliata, Isoëtes asiatica, Utricularia intermedia, and Callitriche palustris.

Rivers and streams. The aquatic vegetation is poor in species composition and represented by thickets of Batrachium eradicatum. Rivers and stream banks are overgrown with thickets composed of moisture-loving species (Senecio palustris, Chamerion latifolium, Angelica genuflexa, Anthriscus sylvestris, Ranunculus repens, Caltha arctica, and others. Muddy river shallows are covered with Limosella aquatica, Alopecurus aequalis, Equisetum arvense, Equisetum arvense, and others.


Habitats map reflects the accepted classification and habitats location (Fig.5).

Habitat types of "Karaginsky island " Ramsar site.

No. Habitat tipes Area, sq. km
1 Siberian dwarf-pine elfin wood 793.26
2 Betula ermanii forests 46.2
3 Betula ermani open woodland 42.69
4 Grass tundra 295.55
5 Lichen tundra 431.91
6 Shrub tundra 273.99
7 Includes bogs 41.28
8 Golets (bald rocks) 3.02
9 Marine water area 1200
  Total 3127.9



The main checklist of vertebrates in the Ramsar wetland "Karaginsky Island" includes 305 species (119 birds, 13 mammals, and 173 fishes). Table 2.



Nesting period. Eighty species of nesting birds (without birds of prey and owls) were found on the island. Thirty-five species nest in floodplain forests. Twenty-two species inhabit various open woodless areas, 23 species dwell Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods. Sixteen species nest in Betula ermanii forests. The maximum density (374.1 pairs/sq. km) of bird population is registered in the floodplain forests. In Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods this parameter is 116.6 pairs/sq. km, open woodless areas, 97.8; in Betula ermanii forests, 94.4 pairs/sq. km.

The most abundant species in the floodplain are Arctic Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit. In Betula ermanii forests Rustic Bunting, Pine Grosbeak, and Arctic Warbler predominate. In Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods, Yellow Wagtail, Red-throated Pipit, and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler prevail. In open woodless areas, Lapland Longspur (Lapland Bunting), Red-throated Pipit, and Yellow Wagtail are dominants.

The island is of great importance as an area for nesting > 400,000 sea colonial birds including Black-legged Kittiwake (120,000 pairs), Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich’s Guillemot) and Common Murre (Gullemot) (60,000 pairs), Pelagic Cormorant (Pelagic Shag) (10,000 pairs), Pigeot Guillemot (8,000 pairs), Tufted Puffin (2,500 pairs), and Anseriformes (Gerasimov, 1970; 1977a; 1979b; 1986; Vyatkin et al, 1975; Vyatkin, 1986; Gerasimov and Vyatkin, 1972; Gerasimov 1979). These species are the most abundant among nesting birds in the territory of the Ramsar wetland. The next in abundance are passerines: Dusky Thrush (~ 60,000) and Red-throated Pipit (~ 50,000) (Table 3).

In various habitats the percentage of bird groups is different. In Betula ermanii forests, passerines account for about 99% of the total number of birds; in tundra and Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods, 88%; in floodplains, 75% (Table 4,5). Ducks are more abundant in the floodplain (13% of the total number of nesting birds); in tundra their number decreases to 6%, in Siberian dwarf-pine elfin woods, to 3%. The number of gallinaceous birds is maximum in elfin woods (9%); that of gulls, in floodplain (7%), and of auks, in tundra and floodplain (3%).

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