Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Gydansky National Park: A land of nomads Journey to the Nenets and Enets nomads

Not all Arctic protected areas can boast of being tourist-friendly. The harsh climate, vast distances and capricious weather can derail any plans, no matter how hard a tour operator tries.

12.09.2022//Not all Arctic protected areas can boast of being tourist-friendly. The harsh climate, vast distances and capricious weather can derail any plans, no matter how hard a tour operator tries. Everything, however, is measured against the clock—Gydansky National Park is still a place that only a select few can reach. Located in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, it has become home to nomadic Nenets and Enets tribes, and for the tourist, it is a beautiful, enticing and hard-to-reach place.

Established in 1996, the reserve has protected the natural diversity of the permafrost zone as well as the East Atlantic Flyway of aquatic and semi-aquatic birds, which runs along the northern shores of Eurasia. The protected area covers over 878,000 hectares. The climate here is traditional for the Arctic, i.e. very cold. The average annual temperature is below zero, and even in July, it rarely gets over +5–10°C. Snow does not melt for 240 days, and the polar night lasts more than a month. There are a lot of rivers and lakes here: when looking at the map, you can notice how the area is mottled with blue blotches and ornate lines.

In December 2019, the reserve was upgraded to national park status. This is a forced measure that simply legislated the state of affairs already in place. According to the law, in national parks, people can afford to carry out some economic activities, whereas in protected areas they are strictly forbidden. It's a fact of life that the territory of Gydansky National Park is inhabited by nomadic tribes—the Gydan Nenets and Enets. To make sure their lives do not break the laws, reindeer herding, fishing and mushroom and berry picking are now allowed in certain areas here. The locals were initially worried about the coming changes: they feared that fuel and energy companies were trying to get in here. However, industrial activities remain prohibited in the national park.

The number of rivers and lakes in Gydansky National Park is still a mystery. Due to the excessive humidity of the climate, the number of bodies of water is constantly changing. The main among them is the Gyda River. It stretches 147 km, and has a basin area of 6,280 sq km, thanks to hundreds of shallow branches. At one point it expands to 2,600 m. The high humidity here is no joke; flooding in the Tazovsky district of YNAA lasts almost half the summer.

The national park is home to all the animals we associate the Arctic with. Polar bears can be found on the islands of Oleniy and Shokalsky. Orcas swim nearby, just off the shore. Bearded seals (leporine seals), beluga whales, ringed seals and Atlantic walruses live everywhere. The park is home to a total of 18 species of mammals, 76 species of birds (50 of which nest here) and 20 species of bony fish. A herd of wild reindeer of the Yamal-Gydan population also lives here, an extreme rarity these days. Although the reindeer are breeding, their numbers are estimated by scientists to be critically low. Interestingly, in recent years, animals have been spotted in the national park who used to migrate way farther to the south. As climate change goes on, they have now found their way here, too. Examples include the brown bear and the short-eared owl.

The central farmstead of the national park is located in the Tazovsky settlement. It houses a small local lore museum that tells of the park's natural riches. Today, a trip to Gydansky National Park is a full-fledged adventure that requires equal parts courage and preparation. There are no developed hiking trails in the protected area yet, but it is possible to try to negotiate with local tourism companies for the provision of specialised transport. It will also be necessary to obtain a permit to stay in the border area and a permit to enter the protected area. Every traveller takes responsibility for their own safety in the wilderness—in case of unforeseen difficulties, help may not be available. You can also try to join an expedition of oceanologists or hydro-biologists.

More affluent tourists will be able to travel more comfortably in the future, as the Russian Geographical Society plans to help the national park establish tourist routes. Due to the inaccessibility of the area, the journey will take about a week and will cost several hundred thousand roubles per person.

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