Lake Baikal

Cultural criteria: vii, viii, ix, x
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1996

One of the biggest sites of the World Natural Heritage represents a huge area (8.8 million hectares) situated in the south of Eastern Siberia, not far from Mongolian borders. In the center of this area, at a height 456 meters above sea level there is the Baikal water area, and its external borders are mainly outlined by the so called “first columbine”, i.e. the question is about a huge “cup”, limited by high mountain ranges – Khamar-Daban, Primorsky, Baikal, Barguzinsky, Ulan-Burgasyetc.

The Baikal holds a world championship at several important parameters at once. Thus, this is the oldest freshwater reservoir of our planet – it is usually determined as 25 million years of age. Furthermore, the Baikal occupying an enormous ancient graben (tectonical fault) belonging to one of the world’s largest rift systems, is recognized the deepest lake of the world – its ultimate depth mark is 1,620 meters. And by its general dimensions the Baikal also ranges among the largest lakes of the world: it is 636 kilometers in length, and its water smooth surface stretches for 3.15 million hectares (this is the biggest lake in Russia, and in the world it ranks 6th). The Baikal contains a huge amount of freshwater – approximately 20% of all the world’s reserves. The Baikal waters’ transparence is amazing too – one can see items at a depth of up to 40 meters.

The lake is notable for rich and very uncommon freshwater life: 3/4 of several thousand species and varieties of plants and animals inhabiting this lake are recognized precinctive, which by world standards is an extremely high indicator. Among endemics there are major elements of the lake ecosystem such as epischura, Baikal cisco and phoca (Baikal seal), as well as viviparous fishes – Baikal oilfish plus quite a number of rare forms of water invertebrates (sponges, freshwater shrimps etc.)

The Baikal is a valuable fishing reservoir: 17 of 50 fish species are of great fishing importance; this list beginning with the most known Baikal cisco also includes sturgeon, whitefish, grayling, ide, carp etc.

At last, the Baikal is famous for its beauty, which attracts to its banks tourists from all corners of the country and from abroad, this is one of the most popular in the whole Russia regions of ecologic tourism (observation of animals, training paths), as well as sport tourism (mountain and water tours) and commercial tourism (collecting taiga gifts, hunting and fishing). Here are a lot of picturesque bays, excellent beaches; the shores are adorned by fanciful cliffs and rock outcrops. On the lake water tours are carried out (particularly, by several big cruise ships), and along the southwest shore one can travel on the old Around Baikal railway (1904), with a lot of tunnels and bridges, a real monument of engineering. On Baikal Lake's shore (discovered by Russian earliest explorers in the middle of the XVII century) traces of settlements of late Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, old burial places are founded, here are a lot of interesting monuments of history and culture. At the present time a Big Baikal Path (BBP) around the whole Baikal is being designed.

Considerable part of the Baikal shore is occupied by various especially protected territories forming some sort of “reservation necklace” around the lake. This “necklace” comprises three reserves – the Barguzinsky reserve (Buryatia, the northeast shore, the Barguzinsky mountain range, 374.3 thousand hectares of area, created in 1916, has the status of a Biosphere Reserve), the Baikal reserve (Buryatia, the south shore, the Khamar-Daban mountain range, 165.7 thousand hectares, 1969, Biosphere Reserve) and the Baikal-Lensky reserve (Irkutskaya oblast, the northwest shore, the Baikal mountain range, sources of the Lena river, 660 thousand hectares, 1986). These are also two national parks – the Pribaikal National Park (Irkutskaya oblast, the whole west and southwest shore of the lake, area of the Primorsky mountain range, including the Olchon island and the Angara source; 418 thousand hectares, 1986) and the Trans-Baikal National Park (Buryatia, the east shore, the Barguzinsky mountain range, the Holy Nose Peninsula, Lake Arangatui, the Barguzinsky and Chivyrkuisky Bays, the Ushkany Islands, 267 thousand hectares, 1986). The section of the World Heritage also covers 1/10 part of the territory of the Tunkinsky National Park in Buryatia. The “reservation necklace” also comprises quite a number of preserves and natural monuments, including two federal preserves – that on Lake Frolicha and the Kabansky preserve (the latter is in the delta of the Selenga river, a wetland of international importance, is protected in accordance with the Ramsar Convention). The natural environment of the Baikal is noteworthy, firstly, by the fact that it fulfils an important defense (buffer) function with respect to the water area. It is clear that the fortune of the lake itself depends in many respects on ecological state of the landscapes surrounding the Baikal.

Secondly, the Baikal’s natural environment itself represents a great value: because they are vast forests and bogs, richest fauna and flora, exotic Alpine forms of relief (glacial lakes and cirques, canyons, sharp crests). The shore and foothills are mainly covered with steppes and forest-steppes, low-hill terrains and medium lands – pine, larch, foliage, cedar and fir forests, they are followed by cedar elfin woods, rhododendrons, mountain tundras and bald mountains.

The flora of the coastal zone of Lake Baikal is represented by over 800 species of higher plants, including quite a number of precinctive and rare forms (thus, in the Pribaikal National Park grow rare plants – large-flowered ladies'-slipper, Turchaninov hair grass, incised violet).

Among approximately 50 mammal species inhabiting the coastal zone - bogs, steppes and forest-steppes, submontane and mountain forests, as well as high-altitude bald mountains and tundras, the most typical are such as wild caribou, maral, moose deer, musk deer, wild boar, brown bear, wolf, fox, sable (including the famous Barguzinsky subspecies), ermine, Siberian weasel, squirrel, chipmunk, marmot-tarbagan, otter and musk beaver. Large rookeries of Baikal seals are situated on the Ushkany Islands; the total number of this animal in the Baikal is now 60-70 thousand.

And let us mention among birds (there are about 250 species of them) on the contrary, the rarest birds listed in the Red Book of Russia: peregrine falcon, osprey, golden eagle, hooded crane and white-tailed (sea) eagle (the two latter are even listed in the International Red Book). Large accumulations of swimming birds are observed in the area of Lake Arangatui, and in winter – in non-freezing sources of the Angara River.