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Kuril Islands Research & Conservation Initiative

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The Kuril Islands

The short film above documents a journey through the Kuril Islands off the coast of Far East Russia, and marine mammal biologist Vladimir Burkanov who is on a mission to protect them and the wildlife that lives there. In conjunction with the film, we are raising funds to support Vladimir’s work in this region, as the necessary financial resources for data collection in this region are very limited.

Summary of fundraising goals

(See more details in ‘Fundraising goals’ below)

We’re looking to raise a total of 80,000 USD that will go towards four main fundraising goals. 

1)  ~$25,000 for Sustainable Access: The Kurils can only be reached by sea, and ships are expensive. A research vessel has been made available, but we need to pay for maintenance, upkeep, and renovation to make this long-term solution a reality. This ship will allow scientists to access the Kuril Islands in a sustainable manner, and it will ensure that future funds go straight to science, rather than renting transportation which makes up 90% of total costs today. 

2) ~$20,000 for Sustainable Research: The Tuleny Island Research Station is, in reality, an abandoned shell of a building in danger of collapse/irrecoverable damage. Vladimir and his students live in this structure each summer, and immediate funds are needed to make it liveable, including new fencing (keeps seals out of building and bird colonies), heating, wall and floor materials, and other basic infrastructure needed to keep this place alive. This will allow Vladimir and 15-20 research students the opportunity to focus on science and conservation.

3) ~$20,000 for New Science: Scientific equipment allows Vladimir to operate efficiently over huge areas. A few weeks ago, Vladimir discovered that a storm surge over the winter had destroyed several custom-made timelapse cameras that he  uses to document marine mammal population changes (seen in the film!). These create the basic data needed to inform conservation plans, and they need to be replaced. 

4) ~$15,000 for Long-Term Capacity Building: Vladimir’s long-term vision for the Kuril Islandsinvolves creating a long-lasting, self-sustaining marine monitoring program (KIRCI link?) with the staff needed to support it. These funds will be used to lay the foundation for this program, build a partnership with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography,  and sustain long-term efforts in the Kurils long after the film has debuted.

From Documentary to Impact Project

On July 8th 2019 a team of filmmakers (Taylor Rees and Renan Ozturk), photographers (Chris Burkard, Jeff Kerby, and Ted Hesser), and scientists (Rishi Sugla, Jeff Kerby) and expedition leader (Povel Torudd) set sail into the North Pacific to document this sparsely known part of the world. The goal was to share it's natural beauty with the world in a short adventure documentary film, presented by the online storytelling channel Tomorrow Unlocked. 

As we began our journey in Petropovalask, we picked up an unexpected guest: Vladimir Burkanov, a Russian marine scientist who has studied marine mammals in the region for over 30 years. Vladimir asked to hitch a ride on our boat to check in on his timelapse cameras and pick up scientific equipment he left on the islands that are used to monitor the health of Stellar sea lions and Northern Fur Seals across the islands.  

What we couldn't have guessed is that over the next couple of weeks Vladimir would become an inspiration to us all. Even with limited research funding for marine scientists in the region, Vladimir has managed to keep up a collection of the longest scientific dataset of marine life in the region- all through humour and passion for this region he hopes will be protected one day. 

Vladimir  taught us about the ecosystem of the Kuril Islands, its climate, and its role as one of the last wild places in the entire Pacific Rim. He took us to tiny spots that only someone who calls a place home could ever know about. He showed us the magic of the Kurils and everything it has to offer the world. He shared stories with us of his time there, spanning the thirty years he’s spent exploring the vast remoteness of the islands.

Known unknowns

This place, like many beautiful and biodiverse places, is threatened. Vladimir's records of marine mammals show drastic changes are already happening to Northern fur seal and Steller sea lion populations in the area, but there isn’t enough environmental monitoring data to understand why.

We know that greater fishing pressures, land uses changes, and the impacts of climate change in the region will all leave their fingerprints on this incredible place, but the international community of scientists and conservationists has yet to understand how. Increasing tourism is also a new threat and there is an urgent need to know what’s happening to this ecosystem and what is needed to protect it.

Collecting robust environmental data is crucially important. It helps inform sound policy and scientific projections of the future that can guide the region towards a conservation plan that will keep these ecosystems healthy for generations

 Creating a self-sustaining research program in the region takes time, resources, and scientific equipment that, frankly, costs money. We are here to help make an impact by supporting these initiatives.

Fundraising : Our goals

The first step in collecting the data needed to inform long-term conservation plans is making sure scientists like Vladimir have their own means of transport along the island chain. For years now, Vladimir has taken to hitch-hiking across the archipelago like he did with us to: collect his data; meet up with his students (stationed at a remote field site on Tuleny Island); and keep up his long-term observations of the Kuril Islands - one of the only long-term records of marine life that exists in the entire region.

While Vladimir’s dedication is inspiring, it isn’t sustainable in the long run. To start off a long-term program in the region and support Vladimir, we're starting off with an ambitious goal to raise $80,000. 

Our major fundraising goal will address the four main challenges Vladimir and his fellow researchers face in the Kurils: 1. Sustainable Access, 2. Sustainable Research, 3. Investing in New Science, 4. Building Capacity to Turn Science into Action.

 Sustainable access is critical to research in the Kuril Islands. Over 90% of all research costs go towards transportations on the ships that Vladimir uses to refuel and resupply the Tuleny Island research station and get back to his timelapse cameras. After our film and with the anticipation of your upcoming support, Vladimir decided to purchase a 65’ research . The hope is this vessel might be a place not just for Vladimir and his students, but for international collaborations. These vessels are cheap to operate compared to other research vessels and, as a bonus, emit less CO2 than fossil-fueled powered vessels. While a large investment of money, having a sailboat will help Vladimir open up the entire region to scientists all over the world who want to access the region for many years to come. Currently, the ship needs repairs (there is no freshwater system on the boat!). We are hoping to raise $25,000 for Vladimir to fix the water system and pay for boat maintenance for his first year with the boat. 

Our second major goal is to renovate the Tuleny Island Research Station that houses Vladimir and his students. Over the past few years, the research station hasn't had funds for upkeep and maintenance. Right now, the team makes do without heating, running water, or a functional kitchen. But the good news is that the foundation of the building is still in great shape, and with repair to the kitchen facilities and heating system, the building could easily house international researchers.  This research station was once a site used  to process furs from the seals in the region. Vladimir and his colleagues have already transformed it into a place to understand the region, rather than extract from it. We are asking for $20,000 to help Vladimir transform it further into a place for management, conservation, and international scientific collaboration in the Kurils. When completely operational, the Tuleny Island Research station has  rooms to house anywhere from 15-20 scientists at a time when everything is functioning correctly. 

The Kurils Islands are remote, rugged, and sometimes rough. It has rapidly shifting weather, intense winters, and marine life that, while cute, isn't always gentle. As you've seen in the film, Vladimir uses timelapse cameras to keep tabs on the population of Northern Fur Seals and Steller Sea Lions from afar. This allows him to efficiently make his way through the entire island chain while collecting data. Recently, a large storm event knocked out a few of his cameras. We're going to help replace them by raising $20,000. 

Our final goal is to make sure the release of the film is the start of something, not the end. Vladimir has helped us imagine the Kuril Islands as the site of international collaborations between Russian and non-Russian scientists. We are committed to creating a long-lasting and self-sustaining marine monitoring program in the Kuril Islands. Expedition member Rishi Sugla, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is working with Vladimir to make this a reality. We hope (when safe) to host in-person fundraising events to raise start-up funds for the research program and non-profit. ~$15,000 from this fundraiser will be used to host the first event at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the world’s leading oceanographic institutions. Vladimir’s hope is to use the data collected to create a marine park system in the Kuril Islands in collaboration with the Russian government and international scientists at places such as Scripps. 

Saving the Kuril Islands starts now

So often, we wait until it's too late to move forward and fight for wild places and the people who live there. In the case of the Kurils, time hasn't run out yet. This is a part of the world that hasn't lost it's past- a beautiful piece of our planet that is worth holding onto. 

Please help us take the next step on the journey to protect the Kurils that Vladimir helped start long ago.


    • $30 
    • 2 mos
  • Gulnara Latypova
    • $20 
    • 2 mos
  • Tom Putt
    • $50 
    • 3 mos
  • Anonymous
    • $15 
    • 6 mos
  • Anonymous
    • $50 
    • 6 mos

Fundraising team: From Kurils with Love (4)

Rishi Sugla
San Diego, CA
Vladimir Burkanov
Povel Torudd
Team member
Taylor Rees
Team member

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