Natural monuments on Lake Baikal

Natural monuments on Lake Baikal

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International Day for Monuments and Sites is celebrated worldwide on April 18. Baikal has more than 300 objects of this kind. We will tell you about the most important of them.

Natural monuments on Lake Baikal

In 1983 the Assembly of the International Council on Monuments and Sites under UNESCO aimed at attracting public attention to the protection and preservation of the world cultural heritage established the International Day of Monuments and Sites. This day was for the first time celebrated internationally on April 18, 1984.

However, everyone knows that monuments can be different. These are not only man-made works of art and cultural objects. The modern world has a large number of unique places and objects of great aesthetic value that bear the name of natural monuments.

They will be the subject of our talk today.

What is a natural monument?

It is commonly believed that the phrase “natural monument” was introduced for use by the famous German geographer, naturalist and traveler of XIX century Alexander von Humboldt. Thanks to him, the name of natural monuments was assigned to unique natural complexes possessing scientific, ecological, and aesthetic value. Simply put, a natural monument not only impresses with its beauty, but is also a serious object for research and study, and therefore for preservation.

Thus, the monuments of nature include separate objects. For example, long-living trees having historical and memorial importance; plants that grew in difficult conditions and therefore taking bizarre forms; unique volcanoes, hills, glaciers, boulders, waterfalls, geysers, springs, sources of rivers, rocks, cliffs, caves and many things more.

Besides, entire natural areas - both on land and water - are often recognized as natural monuments. These are picturesque territories; wildlife areas considered to be flawless; as well as “cultural landscapes” that appeared due to human intervention (ancient parks, avenues, canals, ancient mines). Natural monuments can be the places of growth and habitat of valuable, relict, numerically insignificant, rare and endangered species of plants and animals; as well as particularly valuable forest areas (for example, valuable due to their breed or genetic qualities), including the trees planted by humans.

The notion of natural monuments also encompasses unique relief forms and associated natural landscapes (mountains, cliffs, gorges, canyons, groups of caves, glacial cirques, dunes, sand-drifts, giant ice layers, and many things more). Special protection is rendered to geological outcrops of special scientific value, including those where rare minerals and minerals come to the surface or where paleontological objects have been discovered.

Natural monuments can be separate parts of rivers and entire lakes, marshes, water reservoirs, ponds, marine water areas, as well as hydromineral complexes, thermal springs and therapeutic mud deposits. Finally, this notion can designate the objects at the junction of water and land: spits, isthmuses, lagoons, bays.

In a word, monuments are all objects created by nature that are beautiful, unique and useful, not only for the purpose of study, but also for admiration.

Why do we need natural monuments and when did the first environmental organizations appear?

Baikal is an enormous collection of the most diverse natural monuments - from huge reserves to single objects, such as trees, stones and other natural minor forms. These natural monuments have become the symbols of the lake, images that make Baikal recognizable. They are replicated on postcards, booklets, guidebooks, on the Internet ... That’s why they are monuments: they attract attention, stick in people’s memory, surprise, mesmerize and please the eye.

Undoubtedly, this aspect of monuments performs a serious marketing function: attracts attention to an object, causes interest and an uncontrollable desire to see this miracle of nature with one’s own eyes. But then the human factor comes out: we need to make sure that the monument is not damaged by a large number of visitors and simply curious people. That is why important natural objects need serious protection and preservation. Educational work is aimed at this, too: it should be explained to people that natural beauty has a powerful aesthetic effect that brings a sense of beauty to people’s lives. According to this criterion, a natural monument is no different from a man-made art work: it also is a basis of aesthetic pleasure and, as a result, of emotional education.

Russian public environmental movement emerged in the early 19th century. The movement was initiated by the scientists who first raised questions on the need for conservation of rare species of plants, animals and other natural objects and for coordination of the nature protection measure,  alongside with the solution of scientific, cultural and educational problems. The members of the Moscow Society of Naturalists created in 1805 became pioneers in this issue. By the way, the Society has existed until now.

 A number of decrees on the protection of nature were issued on Lenin’s initiative: several reserves were established, and a decree on the protection of natural monuments, gardens and parks was issued in 1921; the decree said: “The natural territories and separate natural objects (animals, plants, rocks, etc.) possessing scientific and cultural-historical value in need of protection can be declared untouchable natural monuments”.

Baikal monuments

 “The Map of Protected Natural Territories of the Basin of Lake Baikal” was published in 1991. For the first time it featured a dense network of protected natural objects within the Baikal basin. These were namely: three reserves, two national parks, 28 games reserves (three of them being republican), and 267 separate protected areas of the territory had the status of natural monuments. However, a significant part of unique natural objects still remains outside the list of protected areas.

Of course, one may ask: what should exactly be considered a natural monument, what will automatically put the objects under protection? Environmentalists believe that it is necessary to judge by certain situations. For example, if we are talking about a plant, the criterion is whether the plant is exposed to the threat of extinction or is just characteristic of a given locality. The geological outcrops that become monuments are usually those containing fossil fauna or rich in spores and pollen of plants that demonstrate the geological history of the Earth’s distant past. Such an approach can be applied to other natural objects. To be brief, it is expressed in several key criterions: uniqueness, beauty, and scientific significance.

All Baikal natural monuments can be divided into several subgroups according to their types: geomorphological, geological, aquatic and hydrogeological, zoological, botanical, landscape and natural-and-historical. 230 monuments are currently included into the official list of natural monuments of Lake Baikal. We’ll tell you about some of them.

Geomorphological monuments

First of all, these are caves, capes, rocks, cliffs ... The most famous of them are the “Mechta” Cave (“Dream Cave”) located in the vicinity of the village of Sakhurta of Olkhonsky district, being a place of real pilgrimage of professional and amateur speleologists.

The Shaman Stone is the only section of the Angara rapids that rises above the water in the source of the Angara. There are a lot of beautiful legends telling about the stone; this monument is one of the benchmarks of Lake Baikal.

The Khoboy Cape at the northern edge of the island of Olkhon is one of the sacred places not only of the island, but of the entire lake. The famous Burkhan Cape, aka Shamanka, a picturesque natural monument, is also situated on Olkhon; every Baikal photo collection has the images of this cape.

The Baklaniy Stone Island (“Cormorant Stone Island”) in the area of Peschanaya Bay is a former habitat of the extinct great cormorant species previously living on Lake Baikal.

The singing sands of Turali and Markovo, the dunes of the Khakusy and Chivyrkuysky Bay, the glaciers of the Cherskogo Mountain are also very famous...

Geological monuments

“Belaya Vyemka” (“White Pit”) and outcrops of marble in the area of the Baikal port are natural monuments on the sections of the Circum-Baikal Railway. They represent the outcropping of marbles with a rare combination of rocks and minerals.

Geological outcrops in the Ozerko Gorge, Sagan Marian, Bolshoye Goloustnoye, and Kurtun represent reference geological cross-sections.

The Angara overthrust folding, Varnachka Gorge, Soboleva Cape are tectonic manifestations of natural monuments.

Several cross-sections (Boyarsky, Tologoisky, Klochnevsky, Zasukhinsky) are considered characteristic geological outcrops containing the remnants of ancient fossil animals (mammoth, antelope, rhinoceros, wolf, etc.).

Aquatic and hydrogeological monuments

These are waterfalls, springs, wells, lakes. The most famous of them are the waterfalls on the rivers of the Barguzinsky and Baikal mountain ridges.

Zmeinyi and Dzeledinsky springs contain thermal and mineralized waters that are very popular among the local population and visitors. Whereas the springs in Khakusy and Davsha are famous for their hydrogen sulfide baths.

The springs of Surkhaytor and Mindelei in Olkhonsky district are widely used in folk medicine.

Frolikha, Heart Lake and Sobolinye Lakes are known far beyond Baikal, they are the places of pilgrimage for tourists.

Zoological monuments

Herring gulls are nesting on the islands of Isokhoi, Borgodagon, Borokchin, Shargodagon and many others in the Maloe More Strait.

The lake near the source of the Kurkula River in Severobaikalsky district is the habitat of the undersize subspecies of grayling.

A rare Tolai hare lives on the Atsulsky Tract in Selenginsky district.

Polar owl nests on the island of Sredneye Ustye (“Middle River Mouth”) in the delta of the Selenga River.

Botanical monuments

The most famous botanical monument is the “Muzhestvo” (“Courage”) Cedar in the area of the Peschanaya Bay. It is a rare example of the adaptability of a living organism to adverse living environment uncharacteristic of its species.

The islands of Gorbunikha, Mitrokhin and Primorsky in the delta of the Selenga River are the only places where the disappearing Pallas apple trees grow.

There is a significant concentration of fragrant poplars in the area of Tepliye Lakes on the left bank of the Snezhnaya River. The place is called “Topolevnik” (“Poplar Grove”).

Landscape monuments

These are islands - Shimai in the Chivyrkuisky Bay (the largest uninhabited island), Ushkany islands - a classic archipelago with its origin still disputed by scientists. And the Peschanaya Bay is one of the most picturesque and warm Baikal bays. There are also the Kruglenky Tract and Posadskaya Valley: the tract is known for its unique forest-steppe landscape, and the valley – for the fact that the Decembrists brothers Bestuzhev and K. Torson lived there in exile.

Natural and historical monuments

These monuments contain ancient petroglyphs and rock carvings (Sagan Zaba Cliff, Orso Cape, Aya Bay); settlements of ancient people (the capes of Ludar, Shamansky, Sonny, the settlement of Varvarina Gora).

One more example is the Strelka Island at the mouth of the Chikoi River in Selenginsky district, where the Peter and Paul Fortress was built in 1727 by the Colonel Ivan Bukholts.

The Stary Gorod Tract has the preserved Spassky Cathedral, Staroselenginskaya Chapel, Kamennaya Chapel and the monument to the commandant of Old Selenginsk, General Jacobi.

It should be added that there is a number of other interesting natural objects on Baikal and its surroundings that will eventually become monuments. All of them are being reviewed by the departments of protected natural territories in the Irkutsk regional and Buryat republican councils of the Society for the Protection of Nature.

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