In the evenings he holds environmental education workshops for the people in the towns along the route. He always has a moment to direct a foreigner's eye to a particularly lovely bird or grove or puff of cloud. And at every opportunity he argues tirelessly, passionately, for the defense of the Amur.
"Only if the people in the small villages understand what wetlands mean will they be protected," Mr. Smirenski says. "It's not me. If they understand, they will protect them forever, not just for one year."
As the boat bears toward the Khingan range, through the gorge where a dam is proposed, Mr. Smirenski argues against it with more and more intensity. Tension slowly rises as the Chinese delegates listen with polite, noncommittal smiles. They are in the same position the Russians were before perestroika. An intemperate remark could get them in deep trouble at home.
The Chinese listen patiently as Mr. Smirenski describes for them the damage created by a dam on the Zeya, the only dam on a tributary of the Amur. "During the construction of the dam our builders didn't clean the bottom of the reservoir," he says. "Now there is decaying wood on the bottom, poisoning the river. The health situation is terrible in the region."
The dam has created the world's 10th largest man-made reservoir -- it can hold 68 million cubic meters of water. Near some of the world's freshest water, the water from the reservoir is close to undrinkable.
The dam has also changed the water temperature and the times the river freezes and thaws. "The ice melts at different times in the reservoir and the river," Mr. Smirenski says. "It melts a month and a half later than before."
This disrupts the delicately tuned migrating habits of birds.
"In the spring when other Russian rivers flood their banks, the Amur is at its lowest level," Mr. Smirenski explains. "In summer, when others are low, the monsoons fill the Amur to its highest levels. It's happened for millions of years, so animals and plants developed special adaptations to these conditions. But the builders of the dam relied on the experiences of the European part of the country and didn't take into account the characteristics of this area."
Storks and cranes, more sensitive to their environment than most birds, would certainly be harmed by a dam and the ensuing changes in water temperature and food supply, he says. "The worst is we can't predict all the possible consequences," Mr. Smirenski says.
"We think 80 percent of the great Siberian sturgeon will be lost. The red-crowned cranes, the white-naped cranes, the oriental white stork will be ruined. The engineers say, 'So what. They can go somewhere else.'
"When the engineers say they will come to this great wild river and make it tame, we say they won't tame it. They will kill it. It will be dead.
"We believe we can find other sources of energy that will not destroy the river. This crazy project to create dams should be stopped because it will change the future of generations. This is the pain of our hearts."
Mr. Smirenski says the former Soviet Union is particularly enamored of hydroelectricity. It has eight of the world's 25 largest hydroelectric dams -- twice as many as any other nation.
"Our hydro engineers act as ancient princes who used the right of the first night," he says. "When couples were to be married, the prince took the girl the first night. Now the engineers pick the most beautiful places and use them in the same way. We call them the hydro mafia. Often the benefit is not to the local people and the economy but to the engineers and their institute."
When pressed, the Chinese delegates obfuscate about their position. They talk about how China has begun to buy land for nature reserves. But the Russians push for a statement on the dam.
Finally, Piao Xiwan, director of the environmental protection bureau in Harbin, speaks. "In China the situation is different," he says. "There is no hydro mafia. But there are real benefits for the people. There is a lack of electricity. Only by building a dam can the people live a better life."
Other Chinese delegates nod in agreement. Chinese engineers will come to the same conclusions as Russian engineers, they say.
"They say the dam must be built," says Hu Zheng Wu, deputy director of the Heilongjiang Forest Bureau in Harbin. "The reason is very simple. Only with electricity can you bring light to human society. But how can you get electricity? A hydroelectric station is a way you can get electricity with minimum effect on the environment. If you burn coal or build a nuclear power station, you would bring much more pollution. There is a good water source here, and it would be a waste not to put up a dam here and use hydroelectricity."