Chukotka Autonomous Okrug

Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve

Wrangel Island was the first state reserve in the Russian Arctic. The official date of the creation of the reserve is 23 March 1976, but in fact, its history began in 1953, when the authorities of the Magadan Region adopted a resolution on the protection of walrus rookeries on Wrangel Island. Since 2004, the reserve has enjoyed the status of a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. It covers a huge area of 2,225,650 ha on Wrangel and Herald Islands, and it extends over a width of 12 nautical miles across the surrounding waters. The nearest settlement to the reserve is the town of Pevek, in Chukotka. It takes about two hours to reach it by helicopter.

The territory of the reserve comprises Wrangel Island, with numerous hills and water bodies, and Herald Island, which is a granite outlier with steep rocky cliffs over the sea. The first is located in the Arctic Ocean between the Chukchi and Barents Seas, on the very border of the Western and Eastern Hemispheres: the 180th meridian crosses right over Wrangel Island. Thus, the island is located in three hemispheres at once: Western, Eastern and Northern. It is named after Baron Ferdinand Petrovich Wrangel, an outstanding polar explorer and contemporary of Pushkin.

Address: 23 Kuvaeva St., Pevek, 689400, Chukotka Autonomous District
Phone number: 8-(427-37) 4-15-12
Site on the map

Wrangel was not the discoverer of the island: this piece of land had long been known to Arctic sailors, but remained inaccessible. In the early 1820s, the Baron's expedition unsuccessfully tried to reach the shores of the island for three years in a row but collected a lot of data about it. Wrangel's name appeared on the map in 1867, when the American whaler Thomas Long finally managed to approach the island and round it. Long named the island after the famous Russian explorer of the polar seas. The strait between Wrangel Island and the mainland was named after Long himself.

Only 70 km from Wrangel Island, Herald Island is already in another sea, the Chukchi Sea. It was discovered in 1849 by British Vice Admiral Henry Kellett. Herald was the name of his ship.

The history of the islands makes it clear that the reserve is hard to reach, but this makes it even more interesting for tourists. Wrangel Island is famous primarily for the fact that polar bears breed on it. Every year hundreds of female bears lie down here in their ancestral dens, and then in March-April they emerge and stay on Wrangel Island until the newborn cubs are used to the harsh conditions of the Arctic. This takes several months, after which the bear colonies move to the pack ice (that is, the perennial sea ice).

In addition to bears, there are also white owls, lemmings and Arctic foxes, which also breed here. They offer an example of how everything in nature is interconnected: Arctic foxes and owls hunt lemmings, and when there are few rodents, the Arctic foxes feed on nesting owls, giving the lemmings a chance to recover, and the balance is gradually restored. There are also non-indigenous inhabitants on the island: reindeer and musk oxen, which were successfully brought to the Arctic for acclimatisation. Foxes, ermines, wolverines and wolves come from the mainland.

Fifty species of migratory birds nest in the reserve, and on Wrangel Island, there is the only large colony of white geese in Eurasia. A large number of seabirds gather on the picturesque cliffs of Cape Ptichy Bazar and on the rocky southern shores of Herald Island: kittiwakes, thick-billed guillemots and true guillemots, pelagic cormorants.

Pacific walruses are fond of both protected islands. Wrangel Island still houses the largest walrus rookery in Russia. In early summer, seals rest on ice floes in the bay. Towards the end of summer, on windless days, the fountains of grey whales can be seen in the sea.

The flora of the reserve is unique: almost all types of arctic landscapes, with the exception of glacial ones, can be found on Wrangel Island. The base of some of these landscapes is formed by plants that have survived here since the Pleistocene. In fact, of all the landscapes that exist now on the planet, these are closest to the actual ancient Pleistocene.

On Wrangel Island, there are historical monuments from various eras. The oldest one is the ancient Eskimo site Chertov Ovrag (Devil's Ravine.) Most of Krasin Bay, which is always teeming with marine mammals and birds, is perfectly visible from the site. It is easy to understand why ancient hunters set up a seasonal camp here more than three thousand years ago.

In the northwestern part of the island, on the northern shore of the Nanaun Lagoon, you can see a rare sight from the times of the Soviet pioneers: the remains of a dugout built by Vasily Nanaun's family in the 1920s. Nanaun's descendants moved to the mainland at the beginning of the 21st century, and now there are no permanent residents on the island, except for the reserve inspectors. The staff of the research station regularly visit the island, but it is extremely difficult and dangerous to live there because of its proximity to polar bears.

On Lake Komsomol, a hunting camp from the 20th century has been preserved: a wooden hut called Hunter Chayvyn's House. Chayvyn was an Eskimo hunter, a real character in Vitaly Shentalinsky's documentary work 'Autumn at Wrangel Reserve', published in 1978. Shentalinsky wrote the most expressive description of this Arctic land:

'... Thousands of years ago, in those immemorial times, when the great glaciers were melting, Wrangel Island appeared in the ocean: a fragment of ancient Beringia. Epochs passed, people settled the planet, but the island, similar in outline to a cracked bear's skull, remained uninhabited. Its 'discovery' was long and difficult, it was not easy to master. Now the island is once again beyond the reach of human exploitation, but not because of the polar elements, but by human will. We are witnesses to, and participants in, its new history'.

The priority type of tourism in the reserve is scientific, aimed at environmental education. During the short period of ice-free water in the adjacent seas, Wrangel Island is accessible to cruise ship passengers. The reserve has nine ecological routes, including two cruise routes. Tourists require the permission of the reserve administration to stay within the territory of the Wrangel Island Reserve. Cruise ships only enter the surrounding marine zone with the administration's authorisation as well: the application must be submitted at least 5 months before the voyage.

When visiting, it is necessary to strictly comply with the Reserve's Regulations and the rules for visiting the Chukotka Autonomous District. Each group is accompanied by employees of the nature reserve. During overland excursions, visitors stay in guesthouses on Wrangel Island.

There are guest houses at the Somnitelnaya, Tundrovy Peak, Neozhidannaya, Waring, and Krasny Flag ranger stations.

All up-to-date information is available on the nature reserve's website.