Well, that didn’t take long.
Minutes after Ranger Sergei Belotsky powers our motorboat from Bukhta Expeditsy (Expedition Bay) into the greater Sea of Japan, workers on a launch from a nearby clam farm wave us over.
Four men, they say, are diving in a restricted zone in the nearby Far Eastern State Marine Preserve, where Belotsky works. Poachers, maybe. If we hurry, we might catch them red-handed.
Belotsky opens up the throttle, and our boat slaps across the sea, hanging a hard left after we pass a rocky promontory skirted by crashing waves.
Belotsky had just been describing how poachers, Russian and North Korean, were depleting sea life in this remote, beautiful preserve south of Vladivostok. Under the cover of night or bad weather, North Korean fishermen in unseaworthy boats putter across the Tumen River – the border between the two countries – into Russian waters in order to net calamari. And the Primorye region’s home-grown poachers – gonzo divers with speedboats, GPS units and an excess of moxie – are illegally harvesting sea cucumbers and exporting them through criminal syndicates to China.
Ranger Belotsky was ferrying our family (along with the preserve’s tourism director and his daughter) to Furugelm Island, a former military outpost converted into a park. But poaching trumps tourism, so we are all suddenly part of an unplanned enforcement action.
Shortly, we catch sight of four beefy men in wetsuits diving off a red inflatable boat in shallow waters. Belotsky powers alongside.
“You guys know you’re in prohibited territory?” he says. “What are you catching here?”
“Oh, we’re not catching anything,” a diver says. “We’re just using our camera to film the seafloor.”
Yeah, right. But they have no catch aboard to suggest that they’re lying, so Belotsky chases them off with a warning. Then he wheels the boat around and heads toward Furugelm.
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