World Cup Stadium Built on a Rare Wildlife Habitat Area

In an ironic twist, a World Cup stadium built to the highest environmental standards has taken over the last of a Russian city’s natural wetlands.

The 35,000-seat Kaliningrad Stadium was built over October Island, the remaining marsh and a haven for birds in Kaliningrad, about 785 miles from Moscow, the Associated Press reports. Crews poured over a million tons of sand on the swamp in 2014 to stabilize the ground for construction.

“It was a typical delta island, with peat and a wetland reed-bed. It was a little corner of heaven in the city, where birds lived,” local ecologist Alexandra Korolyova told the AP. “Really, if Russia paid more attention to protecting the environment, it could potentially have become a reservation or national park within the city.”

She described the former island as a “filter” for the polluted Pregolya River, which empties into an inlet of the Baltic Sea.

“We’ve lost a lot and I don’t see what we’ve gained,” added Korolyova.

This is the first year that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has required all of its participants to build sustainable stadiums using green-building standards, according to the association’s 2018 World Cup website.

In a report done on this building sustainable stadiums, FIFA described the Kaliningrad arena as being “designed to achieve high energy and resource efficiency standards through the use of energy-efficient utility systems, environmentally friendly materials and an effective system to control the consumption of energy for heating, ventilation, electric lighting, chilling, pumping and other energy intense operations within the stadium.”

Though it was built over an ecologically sensitive area, local officials suggest the stadium is actually a benefit to its surrounding environment.

“Everything was done in accordance with best practice,” local World Cup organizing committee chairman Arkady Dvorkovich told the AP. “This place, in my view, was more like wasteland than a place with very good nature. Theoretically, of course, you can call any swamp a very beautiful and environmentally clean place, but it’s not really correct in relation to the city infrastructure and the cities.”

“The whole district where the stadium stands and all the houses around it, literally six or seven years ago there was a marsh here,” Russia’s Minister of Special Programs Alexei Merkushkin told the AP. “By putting all this territory in order, so to speak, we’ve already made a huge contribution to ecology because this was the most horrible place in the city … I think the World Cup gave a huge boost to improving the environment in our city even though it was already very good.”