The environmental situation in the Caspian sea is one of great pressure. Some areas have become dead zones, and the Caspian shelf mainly looses its validity as a place for spawning of the Caspian sea fishes. The sturgeon fishery is a traditional and well-known activity because of the value of the caviar and fish. However, in recent times, there has been a drastic decline in the sturgeon catch. Landings have decreased from around 30,000 tonnes in 1985 to 13,300 tonnes in 1990, down to 2,100 tonnes in 1994. In May 2000 there was a mass loss of seals in Northern and Southern Caspian - about 3000 died. In May 2001 a mass loss of the Caspian sprat was observed.

In this section the resources of the caspian, the environmental problems, the causes and the possible solutions are stated. Please take your time to read it and get informed about the seriousness of the situation.

Natural resources of the Caspian Sea

Biological resources
The Caspian sea is unique ecological system with rich natural resources, which include mineral, biological, agro-climatical, balneological, and recreational components.
In particular invaluable are the biological resources of the Caspian sea. They are represented by 1809 species and subspecies of animals, from them - 1069 freely living invertebrates , 325 kinds of parasites and 415 kinds of vertebrates. The most valuable are Caspian sturgeon. Sturgeon are among the aldest (200 to 300 million years old) fish species still living on Earth. Their resistance to viral and bacterial infection and their ability to produce a heart medicine underlines their considarable genetic and biological value. Today Caspian is the only world's basin, in which the productive herd of sturgeon was saved and contain 90 percent of their world production. The Caspian Sea also takes a leading place among internal reservoirs of the world on stocks of valuable kinds of fresh water fishes : Caspian reach, sazan, zander, kutum, mullet, bream, strat, carp, perch, salmon.

The Caspian coast with its resorts and recreational potential competes the well-known Black Sea coast of the Caucasus with broad and long sandy beaches, abundance of solar radiation, and few rainy days in the warm period of the year. Since the old days the Caspian sea plays a key role as a major crossroad of trade paths between East and West. It was and remains along the Great Silk path, which is to be restored and will ensure a stream of transport between European and Central and southern Asian countries.

dsc00049_1.jpg (22.7 K)Hydro-carbons
The oil reserves of the Caspian region are huge. There are many estimates made on oil reserves in the Caspian basin. At present it varies from 17 bln. brls up to 250 bln.brls. (2,3-34,1 bln.tons). More than 150 years ago oil was extracted onshore in Azerbaijan. Since the 19th century the caspian sea entered a petroleum era. The first offshore well on the Absheron shelf of the Caspian sea was drilled in 1820. In 1870 the Caspian region attracted strong attention of foreign companies, among which especially the Nobel brothers and Rotshield have become famous. Shell was also among those pioneers. First oil supply to international markets started in 2000.

As for other mineral resources the Caspian coast is rich of building stones, including valuable types of finishing stones and various salts, especially in the gulf of Kara-Bogaz-Gol. The Earth in the Caspian coast is fertile and completely consists of agriculture. The Caspian beaches are a favorite place of rest for local people, and there are a lot of private summer residences.

Table: Hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Sea, mln. tons

Country The area of the Caspian sector, km2 (%) Quantity of oil-and-gas-bearing frames Prognostic resources Drawn resources Estimation of crude oil production Quantity of commercial deposits
Azerbaijan 78(20,7) 137 3600 1600 650 24-27
Kazakhstan 113(29,9) 82 3400 1200 500 1
Turkmenistan 79(19,2) 65 600 250 100 5-7
Russia 64(15,6) 20 400 150 50 1
Iran 44(14,6) 43        
Total 378(100) 347 8000 3200 1300-1310 30-36


Environmental situation

The Caspian sea is under a constant threat of pollution. There are various sources of the pollution, which we can classify as follows:

  1. River flow;
  2. Onshore industrial and municipal waste water;
  3. Offshore and onshore oil extraction;
  4. Sea level growth, as a result of the flooded coastal zone, where also many oil wells still function, pollutions reaches the sea.


Intensive oil and gas development in the Caspian region resulted in extensive air, water and land pollution, wildlife and plant degradation, exhaustion of natural resources, ecosystem disturbance, desertification and considerable losses in biological and landscape diversity.
Environmental damage exceeds revenues from exploitation of natural resources. Negative environmental changes cause growth of human morbidity and mortality. Life-rate in the Caspian littoral states is lower for 15-20 years than in developed countries.

Also the land surrounding the Caspian Sea and the air are threatened by heavy pollution.

pump_fire.jpg (13.8 K)Main sources of air pollution are 269 enterprises with over 5600 stationary pollutant emission sources. 251 enterprises were inventoried for emission sources, on the results of which, normative documentation on maximum allowable emissions (MAE) was developed.
In 1998, the air emission volume was 135,057 (100%) thousand tons for all enterprises in the oblast, from which solid substances -2,281 (2%) and gas - 132,775 th. tons (98%). This pollution consists of:

  • sulfur dioxide - 43,815 th. tons(33%)
  • carbon oxide - 56,064 th. tons(47%)
  • nitrogen oxide - 8,265 th. tons(13%)
  • hydrocarbons - 17,559 th. tons(13%)
  • others - 7,072 (6%) th. tons.

During the development of oil-wells, soil is being contaminated by oil spills, stratal water discharges, unregulated transport and equipment traffic. This creates waste such as: oil-slime, soil polluted by oil and salts, metal wastes, materials polluted by radioactive substances of natural origin, debris and well overhaul wastes. There are areas with technological storages, where surplus oil is stored for emergencies or well overhaul activities. For example annually over 50 th. tons of oil-slime and oil-polluted soil is produced in the republic of Kazakhstan and the task is to clean up land from these wastes. As an example, based on data of controlling environmental bodies, there are now no more oil storages and oil-polluted sites in the Kyzyl-Orda oblast.

Pollution is not the only pressure on the Caspian environment. Overfishing is also a large threat on the equilibrium of the sea. The Caspian Sea is a major fishery reservoir, where 90% of the world sturgeon stocks were produced annually. Extensive spawning-places in the rivers flowing into the sea, and high food provision have contributed to the largest world sturgeon concentration in the Caspian Sea. There are around 50 other fish species in the river delta and coastal parts of the Caspian Sea.
However, the last years contamination of the Ural river and the Caspian Sea by increased petroleum and industrial wastes resulted in decrease of natural spawning-places. Combined with large fisheries and continuous growth of mass poaching this causes a critical fisheries situation in the Ural-Caspian basin.
As an example in the table below the sturgeon production is stated.

Years 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
Sturgeon,tons 1730 1112 635 573 388 420 590
Sturgeon caviar,tons 53,2 40,0 28,5 19,6 N/A 28 26
Seal,th. heads 12,3 16,2 7,6 9,5 7,8 No production No production

Natural pollution
There are also natural pollution sources in the sea like mud volcanoes or griffins. Mud volcanoes erupt frequently on the coast, on islands and on banks of the South Caspian. As a result of this processes new banks and islands are formed on the Caspian sea, most of which is washed away subsequently. The eruption of a mud volcano is a sign of presence of hydrocarbonic resources in the considered area. 50% of mud volcanos of the world is situated on Absheron peninsula of Caspian Sea. The majority of jars and islands in the area of the Baku archipelago has a volcanic origin.
Unfortunately at this moment no regular monitoring of the Caspian sea contamination is conducted. Due to financial problems scientists have to use last years data to for the environmental picture of the sea. This approach is not far from reality, because the pollution characteristics for the region do not change much.

Causes of problems and solutions 

Causes of high-level urban air pollution are:

  • obsolete production technologies;
  • inefficient treatment equipment;
  • low fuel quality;
  • poor use of renewable and non-traditional energy sources.

viewpoint_oilpumps.jpg (12.7 K)The main pollutants are: carbon dioxide and monoxide, dust, sulfur and nitric dioxide, hydrocarbons.
One of the ways of solving problems related to air pollution is introduction of energy-saving technologies. Most energy losses fall at heating. The industrial and household complexes use about 32-38% of all republican energy resources, based, mainly, on flaring poor-quality coal. Main energy-users are houses and social facilities.

During the development of oil-wells, soil is being contaminated by oil spills, stratal water discharges, unregulated transport and equipment traffic. This forms wastes such as: oil-slime, soil polluted by oil and salts, metal wastes, materials polluted by radioactive substances of natural origin, debris, well overhaul wastes. There are areas with technological storages, where surplus oil is placed as a result of emergencies or well overhaul activities. Annually, over 50 th. tons of oil-slime and oil-polluted soil is produced only in the republic of Kazakhstan and the task is to clean up land from these wastes.

On July 1994, an experimental pilot plant "Aktau-1" was constructed and installed on the special territory of "Zhetybaimunaigas" JSC for sump oil collection and processing. There was a attempt to test on idle running but it failed due to technical difficulties and the plant was closed down. In 1996, there was another attempt but it was not successful and till present time the plant has not been operating instead cleaning up oil-polluted soil.

Reserve areas

The water area of Northern Caspian is unique from the biological and fisheries viewpoints. The make sure that some areas are protected Reserved areas have been created.
The Caspian Sea has three main National Parks:

  1. Astrakhan. This is situated in the northern part of the sea, in the lower section of the Volga River delta, one of the largest in the world. Its area is 66,8 thousand ha. This National Park was created in 1919. Its goal is preservation and accumulation of natural resources and genetic funds of the Volga delta and of the coast of Caspian Sea. Besides this also to research dynamic deltaforming and the lives of its inhabitants. The purpose of this park is economic development and protection of nestinggrounds and flight of the waterfowl, protection of fish spawning ground and rare plants. In this park live about 30 species of mammal, like wild boars, otters, river beavers; also fishes like sturgeon and herring and birds like geese and swans. Since 1984 it has been an international biosphere reserve.
  2. Gizil-Agac. This is situated on the southeast border of Azerbaijan in the Gyzyl-Agag Gulf area. Its area was 180 thousand ha at the moment of creation in 1926, today - 88,4 thousand ha. The distinctive feature of the nature in this reserve is the extreme dynamic formed by the fluctuation of the Caspian Sea level, the Kura River flowing in and human economic activities. The reserve has the following strongly expressed and directed regime: protection of winterings of the waterfowl (numbers are the largest in the southeast of the Caspian Sea), and spawning ground of many valuable fishes. Two spawning-nursery facilities operate here. 74 species of the fish live in the Caspian Sea, 54 species meet here in Big and Small Kizil-Agach Gulfs. The wintering water- and swampbirds are: flamingoes, goose, different kind of ducks, and white and grey heron.
  3. Khazar. This park is situated on the southeast coast of the Caspian Sea. Its area is 262 thousand ha. (1983). The territory is divided in two parts: the northern - from Turkmenbashi to Cheleken peninsula-, and the southern - from Okerem to Gasan-Kuli cape and floods of Atrek River-. The reserve was created in 1933 as GasanKuli ornithological reserve. It consists of two regions: GasanKuli (69,7 thousand ha) and Krasnovodsk (192,3 thousand ha). Characteristic representatives are ducks, flamingoes, swans, dives and seagulls.