Strategic Project No. 4. Increasing the Level of Environmental Safety and Preservation of the Region’s Natural Systems

The complex strategic project is aimed at strengthening the ecological framework and improving the quality of life of the Astrakhan region and the Caspian macroregion, as well as achieving a unique result – the territorial leadership of the university in the field of ecology and biodiversity conservation, including in the areas of oil and gas fields development.

The project aims

The project aims to increase the level of environmental safety and
to conserve the natural systems of the Caspian region.

Under the complexity and interdisciplinarity, the project consists of several lighthouse projects with a coherent goal and strategic guidelines aimed at achieving a unique result – the university’s leadership in the field of ecology and biodiversity conservation.

Relevance of the project is linked to the solution of a set of environmental problems in the regional development agenda:

  • the load on the Volga water resources is eight times higher than the load on water resources on average in Russia. Less than 80% of the population is provided with or has access to tap clean water. As a result of pollution of the water basin, natural ecosystems are transformed and biodiversity in the Caspian Sea is diminished;
  • soil degradation and desertification in the Caspian region, which includes the territories of Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kalmykia, Dagestan and the Astrakhan region has disastrous consequences, both in the form of reduction of arable land and in the form of dangerous natural phenomena (dust storms);
  • reduction of species diversity and pollution of water bodies leads to the impoverishment of fish food ration, which is the reason for the lack of global leadership in commercial fisheries in the Caspian Sea

The problem is of “cross-cutting” interdisciplinary character, as it is connected to the issues of human health and life quality, stable economic growth, reasonable consumption of resources.

The strategic project is the key one for the university, the Astrakhan region and the Caspian macro-region in the logic of the Ecology national project, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, implemented, among others, through several regional projects and their results, affecting the Caspian macro-region ecosystems:

  • Biodiversity Conservation and Ecological Tourism Development (Astrakhan Region) Regional Project;
  • Enhancement of the Volga River (Astrakhan Region) Regional project;
  • Conservation of Unique Water Bodies (Astrakhan Region) Regional project.

Expected results of the project

For the Caspian Sea region:

  • leadership in automation and resource provisioning of integrated environmental monitoring of water areas using unmanned marine robots;
  • development of standard and replicable solutions for the restoration of ecosystems (degradation, pollution, siltation, unsustainable natural resource use);
  • improving the ecological situation in the region and preserving unique biodiversity;
  • improving the region attractiveness as a place of residence for young scientists as well so that they will settle down in the region

For the university:

  •  leadership in environmental protection technologies for the Earth’s inland water ecosystems;
  •  a unique integrated research Ecology and Climate sector;
  • Caspian Space Monitoring Center;
  • High-performance computer systems and distributed data processing high-tech sector;
  • development of promising research areas and educational paths with a competitive advantage of development: microbiology and bioremediation (microorganisms of soil, plants, animals), analytical chemistry of the environment and “green chemistry”, ITC (to find solutions to environmental problems and prevent large-scale environmental disasters), artificial intelligence (pollution control; identification of plant species; high precision ecosystem monitoring), robotics (robotic fish to combat pollution), data analysis (DataScience, most vulnerable animal and plant species, factors affecting their life and habitat).
  • increasing the position in the ratings of universities.

The results of the project are aimed at solving several urgent environmental problems of the Astrakhan region and the Caspian Sea region. The results will correspond to the response to the large-scale Global climate change and desertification of territories in the south of Russia challenge.

I. Combating Desertification and Soil Degradation

Project leader: L.V. Yakovleva, Head of the Chair of Botany, Soil Science and Biology of Ecosystems, D.Sc. in Biology

 Among the threats affecting the development of world civilization, according to the UN Convention, one of the leading places is the problem of desertification and land degradation. Soil degradation and desertification in the Caspian region, including the territories of Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kalmykia, Dagestan and the Astrakhan region has disastrous consequences, both in the form of reduction of arable land and in the form of dangerous natural phenomena (dust storms).

According to the UN, no area currently faces a greater threat from desertification than the region between the Caspian Sea and the Pamir Mountains. 579,900 ha of the total area of deflation-prone lands in the Astrakhan region are deflated, of which 333,800 ha are agricultural lands, including 2,000 ha of arable land. There is 542,700 ha of unfixed mobile sands within the borders of the region.

To prevent the development of desertification processes and ecological disaster in the region a scientifically grounded set of measures aimed at fixing sands and protecting soils from deflation is needed.

The project aims to study scientific bases of degradation development and desertification mechanisms of arid delta territories, to develop and implement new hybrid methods of soil protection and combating desertification and degradation.

Strategic objectives:

  • to develop the fundamental knowledge on land degradation neutrality to assess the effectiveness of sustainable land use and climate change adaptation measures;
  • to conduct in-depth integrated scientific and experimental research (large-scale soil, geobotanical, microbiological, ameliorative and agrochemical studies, etc.)
  • to develop complexes of measures for combating desertification and to test their effectiveness in different natural conditions;
  • to train highly qualified specialists on this issue;
  • to restore the degraded land areas.

The project will contribute to the development of regional programs for measures to combat desertification in agricultural lands, including within the framework of the State Program for the Effective Involvement of Agricultural Lands into Turnover and Development of the Land Reclamation Complex of the Russian Federation, approved by the Resolution № 731 of the RF Government of May 14, 2021.

II. Biological Methods for Ecosystems Protection ​

Project leader: Yu.V. Bataeva, Head of the Chair of Biotechnology, Zoology & Aquaculture, Senior Researcher Assistant of Laboratory of Biotechnology, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Associate Professor.

This field focuses on searching and developing new ecological preparations to improve the environment and intensify the restoration of degraded lands.


1. New Strains for Developing Highly Efficient Biopreparations

Searching for new microbial strains that produce bioactive substances with wide-ranging environmental impact, have multifunctional properties and may be used as a basis for new bio preparations is a pressing issue. Research shows that one of the conditions for developing highly efficient bio preparations is the availability of active and stable producing strains. Consequently, there is an obvious necessity to know their biological properties: cultural and morphological, physiological and biochemical characteristics, variability, viability, target activity.

The group of Astrakhan State University microbiologists under the guidance of Yulia Bataeva, Head of the Chair of Biotechnology, Zoology & Aquaculture, Associate Professor, has started active work on combating desertification of the territories in southern Russia.

According to Yu. Bataeva and L. Grigoryan’s research data, microbial landscape of extreme soil ecosystems of the Volga-Akhtuba bottomland and the Volga Delta represents wide range of microorganisms with unique properties that will be used to implement this program. Many studies related to desert soils found out that the most widespread microorganisms in desert soils are actinomycetes, cyanobacteria and microalgaes; their isolates are fully adapted to high rates in temperature, salt concentration and radiation. These microorganisms provide environment with the complex of secondary exometabolites of various composition with aliphatic, carbocyclic and heterocyclic, nitrogenous, oxygeneous and sulfur-containing compounds.

Together with phytomelioration, microbiology and molecular genetics methods, which are new for this issue, will be evaluated:

  • genetic analysis of microorganisms that are able to enhance arid extreme ecosystems, including those of agriculture designation;
  • research on phylogenetic structure of a metabolically active prokaryotic complex of various soils under extreme climatic conditions of the northern part of the Caspian Sea region

Replenishment of data on the range and diversity of microorganisms from extreme habitats, these microorganisms place among other soil microbes develops our vision of them as specific bioactive substances producers and arouses great interest in researching them under the project on combating desertification in southern Russia.

The following patents for invention have been obtained:

  • Patent No. 2695157 Streptomyces carpaticus strain for protection from insect-pests, fungal, viral diseases and for tomatoes growth stimulation / L.N. Grigoryan, Yu.V. Bataeva, V.A. Shlyakhov, I.S. Dzerzhinskaya dd 22.07.2019.
  • Patent No. 2634387 The method of plants growth and development stimulation, yield enhancement and protection from phytopathogenic fungi in arid zone / Yu. V. Bataeva, I.S. Dzerzhinskaya dated 26.10.2017.

2. Developing Methods to Combat Inland Waters and Ponds Blooming
Increasing frequency and duration of inland waters cyanobacterial blooming poses a number of serious challenges including local and global deterioration of water resources and cyanotoxines effect. The most complicated situation has arisen in the Volga Delta.

This issue is especially acute for many small water bodies including those ones that are widely used for various types of water consumption and ichthyofauna farming.

The method of metabolic control of water bodies blooming under eutrophication may become an efficient and innovative solution to preserve and restore water quality in water bodies, to make them suitable for multifunctional use.

Innovativeness and scientific novelty of the proposed solution involves the use of natural mechanisms to control cyanobacteria and planktonic algaes development in water bodies. Low-molecular organic compounds – allelochemicals have a certain target that prevents their negative impact on other elements of water ecosystem.

For this purpose, brand-new algaecides have been developed on the basis of metabolites-allelochemicals of water plants to prevent the development of the cyanobacteria that cause water bodies blooming.

This innovative methodology provides an opportunity to solve the problem of cyanobacterial blooming for inland water bodies with slow water exchange that will help to preserve and improve the quality of water resources for their diversified use.

On the basis of the brand-new algaecide there has been developed a technology to prevent water bodies blooming.

The following patent for invention has been obtained: No. 2709308 Algeacide created on the basis of water plants metabolites-allelochemicals and designated for prevention of cyanobacteria and green algae development / E.A. Kurashov, Yu.V. Krylova, Yu.V. Bataeva, A.G. Rusanov, L.T. Sukhenko dated 17.12.2019.

III. Ecology of the Caspian Region Environmental Objects

Project leader: E.G. Loktionova, Associate Professor, Chair of Ecology, Nature, Land Management, and Safe Vital Activities, D.Sc. in Chemistry.

The Caspian macroregion is a unique place because of the wide variety of natural resources (biological resources, fossil minerals, hydrocarbons, fresh water resources, environmental and climatic conditions). Environmental safety plays a significant role in sustainable development of each Caspian region state. Although scientists keep focus on the Caspian region issues, almost no complex research on the whole range of problems and regional aspects has been undertaken.

The Astrakhan region has a unique geographical location, and its environmental situation in many ways determines the condition of the Caspian Sea region ecosystems.

The current environmental situation shows high level of ecological risks. Astrakhan air pollution level is high and is characterized by the following parameters: SI=2.2; maximum frequency of MAC exceedance=5.9 and API=7.0, – and is defined by concentrations of formaldehyde, carbon oxide and hydrogen sulfide, increased average concentration of dust, sulfur dioxide, carbon oxide, hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde, ammonia, nitrogen oxide and dioxide.

In 2020 the quality of the Volga River water in the main river bed corresponded to the third class as very polluted. The following parameters showed MAC exceedance for the Volga River water in the main river bed: COD, BOD5, iron, copper, zinc, cadmium, molybdenum, phenols, nitrites, hydrogen sulfide and sulfides. Water pollution with copper, zinc and iron compounds, organic substances with regard to COD and BOD and maximum frequency of phenols MAC exceedance is assessed as characteristic. 19.3% (194,486 persons) of population has used water directly from open water bodies (non-centralized water supply).

The ecosystems condition directly depends on environmental situation in a certain area.

Modern technologies are required to improve the ecosystems condition.

The project objective is to develop and implement technologies for environmental improvement that will help to decrease pollution level of environmental objects of the Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea.

The strategic project implementation will have the following impact

For the region:

  • developing standard and distributable solutions for ecosystems restoration (deterioration, pollution, silting, unreasonable nature management);
  • improving the region environmental situation and conservation of unique biodiversity;
  • improving the region attractiveness as a place of residence for young scientists as well so that they will settle down in the region.

For the university:

  • reinforce promising research trends and educational trajectories which have a competitive advantage for further development: microbiology and bioremediation (soil, plants and animals microorganisms), analytical environmental chemistry and green chemistry, ICT (to search solutions for environmental problems and to prevent major environmental disasters), artificial intelligence (environmental pollution control; plants species identification; highly accurate ecosystems monitoring), data analysis (DataScience, the most vulnerable species of animals and plants, factors influencing their life and habitats).
  • leading position in the field of environmental protection of inland water bodies ecosystems;
  • improving position in the universities rating systems.

IV. Study and Conservation of Faunal Biodiversity in the Caspian Region

Project leader: Astafieva S.S., Head of the Scientific Laboratory of Biotechnology, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Associate Professor

The Caspian region is notable for the rare natural conditions. The widest range of landscapes with diverse ecosystems is represented by the Volga Delta and Volgo-Akhtubinsk flood plain, the Baer knolls and sand dunes, the unique salt lake Baskunchak and Bolshoye Bogdo – the only mountain in the Astrakhan region.
The fauna of the Astrakhan region is astonishingly diverse. On the steppes, you can see not only the widespread animals such as wolves, foxes, hares, but also the relic antelope-saiga. In the reed thickets, there are raccoon dogs, muskrats, reed cats, and even wild boars. And on the seashore, Caspian seals can be found. The Northern Caspian and Volga rivers are home to around 70 fish species, including the famous sturgeons: beluga, sturgeon, sterlet and starred sturgeon. About 250 species of birds can be found here at different times of the year, over 100 of which nest here permanently.

Unique aquatic ecosystems are in trouble. Data show that in 2020, as compared to 2019, the watercourses of the Volga Delta and Volga-Akhtuba flood plain has a 1.9-fold decrease in taxonomic diversity, a 2.4-fold decrease in abundance and a 1.8-fold decrease in forage biomass.

The area of the Volga Delta and the northern part of the Caspian Sea (Volga-Caspian area) is of particular importance to the Russian Federation.
Until the mid-twentieth century, this region was the country’s main supplier of fish products. Historically performed fishery and transport functions of the basin nowadays are being supplemented by intensive industrial development, mainly the development of hydrocarbon resources. Under the conditions of intensive economic activities deployed in the region, the conservation of biodiversity and the integrity of the Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea ecosystems should become the priority basis for the use of water body’s resources.

One of the most important problems in the Lower Volga region today is the marked decline in fish stocks. Both natural and anthropogenic causes have contributed to the sharp decline in bream and Caspian roach fisheries and to their declining share in the total catch of semi-migrating and river fish. Anthropogenic causes such as inadequate fisheries regulations for the release of Volga water and unrecorded fish removals led to a significant reduction in reproductive efficiency at spawning grounds and to a decline in survival rate during the feeding season in the Caspian Sea. In turn, the decline in fish stocks may have been caused by the deterioration of the fish physiological condition due to the development of parasitic diseases, as well as by pollution of the Volga River and the Northern Caspian by highly toxic substances, such as oil products, pesticides and heavy metals, which concentrations have recently significantly exceeded the maximum allowable values.

Oil products continue to be the main pollutants in the Caspian Sea. Since 2009, their content in the Northern Caspian waters has steadily increased. In some areas, the maximum allowable limits were exceeded in many times. At the same time, the presence of hydrocarbons of anthropogenic and mixed genesis was observed along with compounds of autochthonous origin.

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive study of fish, in particular, there is a necessity of physiological research, the results of which form an integral part of objective calculations of commercial fish stocks and allowable catch.

During the first phase of the subproject, we will carry out comprehensive studies on the status of aquatic biological resources in the Volga-Caspian region, which are made against a background of monitoring factors affecting the viability of juvenile hydrobionts under the conditions of natural and artificial reproduction.

The project, among other things, will result in new biotechnologies to conserve and partially restore populations of fauna species in the Caspian region.

V. Environmental Monitoring by GIS and Geo-Referenced Data Methods

Project leader: A.N. Barmin, Dean of the Faculty of Geology and Geography; Full Professor, Chair of Ecology, Nature, Land Management, and Safe Vital Activities, D. Sc in Geography

VI. Synthesis of Life-Enhancing Biologically Active Compounds Extracted from Natural Products

Project leader: A.G. Tyrkov, Dean of the Chemical Faculty, D.Sc. in Chemistry, Full Professor.

Project aims to develop and to implement modern technological approaches to create new, innovative eco-products, including those that improve the quality of life.

Project objectives:

  • to conduct scientific research in the following areas: “Application of supercritical fluid technologies in green chemistry”; “Preparation and study of new materials properties based on azageterocyclic compounds and semi-products for medicinal purposes”.
  • to implement into the educational and innovative activities of the faculties of Astrakhan State University.
  • to train competitive specialists provided with up-to-date knowledge and experience, enabling them to implement innovations in the field of chemical science.

Value for the region.

The project aims to improve the quality of people’s lives in the Caspian region through the production of new synthetic and natural materials based on green technology, which are important ingredients for the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

VII Studying and Preserving the Biodiversity of the Flora in the Caspian Region

Project leader: A.P. Laktionov, Full Professor, Chair of Botany, Biology of Ecosystems and Land Resources, Head of Laboratory “Modeling of Ecosystems and Bioinformatics”, D.Sc. in Biology.

VIII. Modelling the Formation of Dust Storms

Project leader: A.V. Rybakov, Director of the Institute of Physics & Mathematics, Associate Professor, Chair of Electrical Engineering, Electronics, & Automatics.

Project team

Fedotova Anna Vladislavovna

Leader of the strategic project "Improving Environmental Safety and Conservation of Natural Systems of Caspian Macroregion". The director of Innovative Institute of Natural Sciences