New East Digital Archive

What lies beneath: photos from inside Kaliningrad’s notorious amber mining industry

In documenting the quest for so called “Baltic gold", Polish photographer Tomasz Bohm learns about its devastating effect on Kaliningrad’s coastline

5 October 2018

It was a rainy night in November when photographer Tomasz Bohm arrived in Yantarny on the coast of Kaliningrad Oblast — a Russian exclave which borders north-east Poland. “I left the bus and saw nothing. There were very few houses, street lights, shops but most of all a lack of people,” says the photographer, who travelled there from the Polish town of Mikołów in 2017. By morning, he caught sight of silhouettes huddling around giant pipes on the beach. Getting closer, he saw they were in fact fishing for Kaliningrad’s famous yellow stone. Yantarny holds over 90 percent of the world’s amber deposits. The majority of the town’s residents are employed by the local quarry and take on various roles: from diving for amber to cutting and reshaping it for jewellery. The quest for the so called “Baltic gold”, however, comes at a price. Waste is disposed on the local beaches and the coastal landscape, which is several kilometres long, is being ruined by the desire for profit. Illegal amber mining is also on the rise. The photographer came across illegal divers and miners digging up local forests. The media frequently report on local mafia smuggling amber abroad, but Bohm explains these are more often everyday people. “They are usually fathers who need to put food on the table for their families. These people risk their lives almost daily while fishing for amber illegally.”