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Russia Expands National Park to Protect Franz Josef Land Archipelago: National Geographic Applauds Move to Protect Area of Critical Biological Importance

WASHINGTON (August 26, 2016)—Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today announced the expansion of the Russian Arctic National Park by 7.4 million hectares (74,000 square kilometers or 28,571 square miles) to include the Franz Josef Land archipelago. This expansion not only creates the largest protected area in Russia, a total of 8.8 million hectares (88,000 square kilometers or 33,976 square miles), but also the largest marine reserve in the Arctic.

Franz Josef Land, an archipelago of 192 islands, is home to some of Russia’s most pristine ecosystems and threatened species, including walruses, bowhead whales, polar bears and narwhals. In July-August 2013, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala led a National Geographic Society Pristine Seas expedition to Franz Josef Land in collaboration with Russkaya Arktika National Park and with the support of the Russian Geographical Society. The expedition team members found near pristine land and underwater environments with abundant large predators, but they also observed the effects of the increasing loss of sea ice during the summer.

Regarding the Franz Josef Land announcement, Dr. Sala stated: “With today's historic designation, creating the largest protected area in the Arctic Ocean, Russia has set a strong example for the world. As global temperatures continue to rise, pristine areas like Franz Josef Land will be threatened. It is critical that they are protected now and forever. Today's action is a crucial step in that direction.”

On the 2013 National Geographic Society Pristine Seas expedition, team members captured the first deep-sea video of the rare Greenland shark. Findings from the expedition were published in the journal PeerJ in December 2014.

Franz Josef Land State Wildlife Sanctuary was established on April 23, 1994. With today’s announcement, it is now part of the Russian Arctic National Park. “The benefit of merging the State Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Park is clear,” said Alexander Kirilov, acting director of the Russian Arctic National Park. “First, the status of the specially protected natural territory is rising. We can appoint some zones as conservation areas, restricting tourist access, but others will be open for visits as cultural tourism zones, similar to what was done on Severny Island in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Therefore, the effectiveness of the specially protected natural territory management will be enhanced.”

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