Working on the Solovki Islands in post-Camp times

Kelp harvesting at the back of beyond

The main source of kelp in the White Sea is the Solovetsky Islands (or the Solovki Islands) with two productive areas: the villages of Muksalma and Rebalda. The village of Rebаlda is located on Big Solovetsky Island, 16 km north of Solovetsky Monastery. The harvest season begins in the second half of June. But workers head out in advance to prepare the site, equipment, and karbasses [wooden boats] for the new season. 

Seaweed (e.g. kelp) is known to be a unique raw material containing a whole range of biologically active substances that have a positive impact on the human organism. They are a major source of vitamins, iodine with a significantly higher concentration than that found in terrestrial plants.

Algae are used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, the food industry, and agriculture. It is used to produce masks, shampoos, bath salts, food products, including edible wrappers, etc. As regards species found in the White Sea, of practical importance are brown (various kinds of laminaria and fuci) and crimson algae (including ahnfeltia — morphologically similar to moss and rather rare, hence it is only harvested from specimens washed up on shore). 

Back in 1918, the Soviet government declared: "The country needs iodine!" And so it was that a plant in Arkhangelsk (1225km to the north from Moscow) was built and put into operation to produce iodine from White Sea algae. At that time algae were harvested and processed by prisoners on the islands.

Today they are prepared by seasonal workers, mostly from the Arkhangelsk region. The traditional method of harvesting is first to dredge the algae with a short spiked scythe on a long (up to 8m) handle, and then dry, pack, and send it to the plant for further processing. The usual haul is around 500-1000 kg of raw "grass" — more in summer. Stocks begin in dwindle in September, when 500 kg per outing is a good result.

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One of the most famous of Russia’s northern archipelagos is Solovki, also known as the Solovetsky Islands, located in the Arkhangelsk Region.

History tells us that in 1429 three monks fled north from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in search of a new frontier on which to found a much stricter order. Zosima, Savathius and German, now consecrated saints, settled on a picturesque island three days by boat from the southern coast of the White Sea. The island had previously been used as a pagan sanctuary. The small site established by Zosima, Savathius and German became a powerful monastery in less than 100 years. The Solovetsky Islands have always played a crucial role in Russian history.

In ancient times the islands were home to one of Orthodoxy’s most influential monasteries, but during the Stalinist era it was converted into a high-security gulag. Hundreds of thousands of inmates died in the infamous Solovki Camp.

Today, the Solovki Islands, now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Center, are a tourist destination and anyone is free to visit. Getting to the islands, however, is far from easy.

This fall we are glad to present you our special project about the archipelago. Stay tuned and explore Solovki with us.

A recommendation: If you look for a cozy accomodation at Solovki, you might want to check "Solovetskaya Sloboda Hotel" , which provides a comfortable stay on the island at any time of the year.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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