Kamchatka is a peninsula along the Pacific Ocean north of Japan. It’s remote and is famous for its active volcanoes and black sand beaches where local and some adventure tourists like to surf. But recently something happened in Kamchatka. The ocean turned yellow and surfers complained about burning eyes and an illness that made gave them a fever and made them vomit in some cases. At the same time dead animals began to wash up along the shoreline in significant numbers:

Surfers in Russia’s far eastern region of Kamchatka have reported ocean water pollution so bad that it’s poisoning them, and may behind a mysterious mass die-off of sea life along the peninsula’s Pacific coast. Pictures and videos circulating widely on social media show thousands of dead animals washed up on the region’s beaches in recent days, including octopuses, sea stars, fish and shellfish.

Yekaterina Dyba, a geographer who runs the Snowave Kamchatka surfing school, first raised the alarm on social media about a week ago, saying surfers were complaining of poisoning-like symptoms after exposure to the water.

“For several weeks now, all surfers have experienced problems with their eyes after returning from the water. White shroud, blurred vision, dryness. Sore throat. Many had nausea, weakness, high fever,” Dyba wrote in a Facebook post. Local surfers also noted a change in the water’s color.

You can see some of the hundreds of animals that washed up on the beach in this video. WWF Russia has collected samples of the animals washed ashore and is sending them to Moscow to try to identify what killed them:

In this brief clip you can see the color of the water is strikingly yellow:

Initial tests showed elevated levels of petroleum and phenols in the water and locals are suggesting those may have come from one of two military sites in the area. The governor of the region has promised tests at those two sites tomorrow:

The Kamchatka governor, dressed in a “I/We are the Pacific Ocean” T-shirt, vowed on Instagram to lead a “transparent” investigation and sack any official who covered up the scale of the pollution.

He said there would be checks on Tuesday at two military testing sites, Radygino and Kozelsky, that could be responsible, citing a “yellow film” on a local river…

Vladimir Burkanov, a biologist specialising in seals, in a comment published by the Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper, suggested old stores of rocket fuel kept in Radygino could have rusted and the fuel leaked into streams.

The other site, Kozelsky, has been used to bury toxic chemicals and pesticides, according to the governor’s website.

Meanwhile, at the national level, Environmental Resources Minister Dmitry Kobylkin is downplaying the whole thing:

“You asked what the scale of the disaster is – for us, there is no scale of disaster. No one has died, no one was hurt,” he was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.

“I was talking to the guys – eight surfers wrote they received cornea burns of the eye, but in fact this can be treated with eye drops. This is not a severe burn,” Kobylkin said.

He added the pollution did not appear to be manmade in origin.

It is still possible that there is some sort of natural source or explanation for whatever is happening, but Greenpeace Russia released some satellite photos which seemed to show something flowing out of the river and into the ocean starting in early September. That would be consistent with the idea this is coming from a site upstream:

Probably the one thing we can count on is that if this is a leak of rocket fuel or buried chemicals we won’t get a straight story about it out of President Putin.