Authorities in Primorsky Krai, a province in the far east of Russia on the Pacific coast, are discussing the construction of a chemical fertilizer plant in the Nakhodka region. The famous hydrobiologist Sergei Maslennikov, who is also head of a leading Skolkovo startup, is taking part in developing an ecological safety concept for the enterprise.

Mr. Maslennikov is the CEO of the company Morskoi Biotechnopark, a Skolkovo Foundation resident of the biomedical cluster, which creates a line of highly productive far eastern trepang (a.k.a. sea cucumber) using modern selective genetic breeding methods. The trepang is a marine invertebrate that is often harvested for food in many parts of the world but which, as we shall see, is not just limited to that.

The company’s interests are not just limited to trepang, however. The firm is involved in the development and implementation of marine aquaculture technologies for bivalves (molluscs), echinoderms (starfish belong to this category), crustaceans and seaweed, thus generating live feed for sea-farming. The company is also involved in creating hydro-biotechnical installations for sea-farming and controlling biofouling (accumulation of microorganisms, plants, etc. on wetted mechanical surfaces) on ships and hydraulic structures; it conducts research in benthic organisms, plankton and biofouling, studies the biology of invertebrates and algae, develops strategies for the development of marine aquaculture in regional coastal zones, develops projects for aquaculture farms and implements new technologies.

Trapang in an unsuitable environment rapidly loses body mass due to the phenomenon of negative growth. Photo supplied by S. Maslennikov. has already covered a number of team projects headed by Mr. Maslennikov, the senior researcher at the A.V. Zhirmunsky National Scientific Center of Marine Biology in Russia’s far east. One of the projects covers genome selection in trepangs, while another focuses on producing hardy offspring from the Japanese spider crab.

With regards to the plans for a chemical fertilizer plant and its potential negative impact on marine life in Nakhodka Bay, Mr. Maslennikov is convinced that part of the system should incorporate a plantation of cultivated bio-organisms. These can be used to give early warning signs of a contamination problem, allowing time to solve it. Similar technologies are known, but they have advanced much in recent years and have become cheaper and more efficient.

The main impact on marine life in Nakhodka Bay is caused by the presence of two large ports – Vostochniy, which handles coal shipments, and Kozmino, which is home to an oil loading terminal. On the other side of the bay is Nakhodka port, which also handles coal shipments. If that isn’t enough for marine life, biproducts from agriculture also end up in the bay as well as domestic waste water from nearby towns and villages.

In order to create an effective solution for ecological safety, the team will study the water column, the sea floor and conduct background research. Because there are so many influencing factors, the first stage of the solution should involve creating a rectangular grid of observation stations – a total of 25 points standing adjacent to the coastline and right opposite the industrial facility under construction.

Thanks to data analysis from these stations, it will be possible to observe the direction of water mass and to measure the impact of surrounding facilities. However, technogenic impact should be separated from natural phenomena, which can be several times greater than anthropogenic impact.

Sergei Maslennikov in Skolkovo Technopark. Photo:

In order to do this, a control station should be installed in the waters of the Vostok Bay marine reserve where there is no industrial activity. If there are any global interannual natural changes, they will affect local marine organisms and these will show.

The next step is to create a continual monitoring system for the ecosystem. Key indicators are that organisms die out quickly in an unsuitable environment, do not breed, or they leave it.

That is what has happened to scallops, far eastern trepang, and grey sea urchin. Scallops can only tolerate pollution for half an hour; any longer than that and they open their shells, making them vulnerable to predators. Under such conditions, the grey sea urchin stops growing and breeding, while the trepang quickly loses its body mass due to the phenomenon of negative growth. Since monitoring the quality and weight characteristics of hydrobionts is easy and inexpensive, they can serve as tools for assessing the impact of water quality.

Another use for hydrobionts is to create mariculture-hydrobiont plantations for sanitation that can clean both water and soil, as well as process pollutants in the water area. This process is called bioremediation. An example of this is the Pacific mussel, which is able to live for some time in an oil slick; it is considered around the world to be a water purifier. Brown and red algae also bind heavy metals.

The only disadvantage of this method is that the purification process in this case takes some time. However, the main purpose of such plantations is to quickly detect contamination early on based on the growth levels of cultivated hydrobionts.