Marina Rikhvanova, Hero of Lake Baikal
"For me, this work is imperative. I can't not do it. I would be ashamed if something happened to Lake Baikal in my lifetime. I would simply be ashamed. For this reason, I dedicate my life to protecting Lake Baikal." -Marina Rikhvanova.
Congratulations to Marina Rikhvanova, recipient of the 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize! Marina works tirelessly to protect Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake, from pollution and destructive resource extraction projects. Her courage and conviction provide inspiration for all.
"Marina is a fascinating woman. Her calm demeanor hides tremendous potential as a public organizer. Defending environmental rights is never a an easy task. The most difficult part of this work is working with the different stakeholders - from political parties to everyday people - who are otherwise far from environmental causes. My organization is very proud of Marina's work and we wish her many victories in the future." - Irina Bogdan, Ecodal
Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and deepest lake, is known as the "Galapagos of Russia." It holds 20 percent of the world's unfrozen freshwater reserve. Its age and isolation have created one of the world's richest and most unusual collections of freshwater flora and fauna, including 1,700 endemic plant and animal species. Located in southeast Siberia, Lake Baikal provides a way of life for the local communities and is cherished by wilderness lovers from around the world. In 1996, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 2002, the Russian government announced plans to build the longest petroleum pipeline in the world, extending over 2,500 miles from eastern Siberia to an oil terminal on Russia's Pacific coast through Lake Baikal basin. In 2005 Transneft, Russia's state-owned oil company, decide to build the pipeline within a half-mile of Lake Baikal, despite concerns about possible oil spills and leakage. Rikhvanova, co-chair and co-founder of Baikal Environmental Wave (the Wave) immediately opposed the plan, and embarked on a four-year struggle to protect the lake. Working within Russia's increasingly repressive political climate, she successfully led a national campaign that included rallying thousands in protest. Most importantly, Marina brought together diverse stakeholders - including members of opposing political parties - to campaign side-by-side on behalf of Baikal.
As a result of these efforts, in April 2006, President Vladimir Putin ordered the pipeline to be rerouted away from the lake's watershed. This marked a tremendous success for civil society and the environmental movement in Russia.
Although saved from the Siberia-Pacific Pipeline, Lake Baikal still faces a number of significant threats. Marina is busy garnering public support to stave off future threats to the pristine lake. Today, Marina is working to shut down a polluting paper pulp mill on the shore of the lake, stop construction of an International Uranium Enrichment Center near the lake, and help ensure that regulations are adopted to provide for sustainable infrastructure around the lake.
The Siberia-Pacific Pipeline victory and Marina's ongoing work have not come without cost. In July 2007, Marina's son was sent to prison for alleged involvement in an attack on an anti-nuclear camp. Pavel Rikhvanova has remained in custody since without any charges being filed. Marina and many observers believe Pavel is being held as a direct result of Marina's fierce activism on controversial environmental issues.
In October 2006, Rikhvanova was awarded the Conde Nast Traveler Environmental Award.