A suspected toxic spill along the beach on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula has killed about 95 percent of marine life on the surrounding seabed, local scientists said.

Locals first spotted something was wrong when about 20 people in a surf camp has experienced severe retina burns and symptoms that is similar to food poisoning. It was in early September when the water changed to a greyish-yellow color that has a thick milky foam on the surface with a strong foul odor. Few days later, sea creatures such as octopuses, and seals wash up on the beach.

Russia’s investigative Committee then launched a criminal probe into the suspected violation in the waste and marine pollution and use of environmentally hazardous substances.

“On the shore, we did not find any large dead sea animals or birds,” scientist Ivan Usatov said according to a report that has been posted on the governor’s official website. “However, when diving, we found that there is a mass death of benthos [bottom-dwelling organisms] at depths from 10 to 15 meters — 95% are dead. Some large fish, shrimps and crabs have survived, but in very small numbers.”

A photographer went on an underwater expedition with the scientists, and reported they too experienced a retina burn.

“Our guys went diving and they came back to surface with tears on their eyes! The entire seabed was full of dead animals’ corpses,” Kristina Rozenberg, a local tour guide, wrote on her Instagram. “All of our underwater beauty is gray and yellow colors, the fish looks like they’ve been boiling in hot water… and this is all happening just 200 meters away from the house I live in.”

It is still unclear what caused the contamination, but initial examination of the water showed levels of phenol, a substance used as antiseptic or disinfectant, were 2.5 times higher than normal. It also has petroleum levels 3.6 times higher than the normal.

“The investigators are checking all possible sources of pollution, including the territories of landfills adjacent to the Avachinsky Bay and the coastal strip of Khalaktyr where toxic chemicals are stored,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

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