written by Christine St. Pierre
Packing for this trip to Alaska went differently than I had ever imagined. Instead of stuffing layers of merino wool and torn climbing pants, I found myself neatly folding blouses and blazers. The occasion, however, was also much different than in my imagination—I was traveling as a Greenpeace activist. Our mission? Protection of the Bering Sea Canyons.
The Bering Sea is the heart of both Alaska and the fishing industry, with sea ice and a massive shelf break that make the ecosystems incredibly diverse. The shelf break, known as the “greenbelt,” is the epicenter of productivity for these critical environments and under threat by destructive fishing practices. Greenpeace seeks to set aside portions of these canyons as marine reserves, an area safe from destructive fishing and drilling.
Last month, the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) held a series of hearings, which could determine changes within one of the most profitable industries that exists: industrial fishing. The very powerful members of this council voted on issues that will decide the fate of the Bering Sea and the communities depending on its bounty for survival.
One by one, Greenpeace activists arrived in Juneau, Alaska. Some brought exciting toys, like a massive thermal airship with the words “Protect our Home” painted across a giant sperm whale. Others brought scientific research proposals and PowerPoint presentations. All of us brought the voices of over 100,000 concerned individuals and the determination to express those voices loud and clear. And by “loud” I mean projecting them on an airship and flying past the council’s private dinner party.
Each activist’s role was an integral component in how the week, and campaign, would be successful. I, along with another, attended the lengthy council meetings that went on day after day, learning from the rigid proceedings and highly politicized council process. The experience served as extraordinary education in how some of the most powerful decisions in Alaska are made, those affecting some of our nation’s most valuable waters, and our most productive fisheries. They are deliberated upon in hundreds of hallway and sidebar conversations. Our campaigners did not know until the last minute how the the powerful eleven Council members would vote, or what exactly their motion would say. The decision, which sets the stage for how the campaign will evolve coming away from this pivotal decision point, was being made with opposing industry heavy weights urging no more than research and our campaigners who demanded real progress.
The Klingit tribe, as well as members of the local maritime communities, met us at the Centennial Hall Convention Center to hold a large banner and play tribal drums that represent their ancient presence in Alaska. Some industry representatives walked by with eyes to the floor, actively ignoring our bold banner - meant to remind them of the massive groundswell of public support for canyons protections – and others were obviously unsettled by that message and the hundreds of letters we delivered. The airship crew flew three times, creating massive headlines in printed, online, and radio media, and also quite the gossip in the council hallways. Greenpeace Oceans Campaigners John Hocevar and Jackie Dragon presented a powerful testimony to the council while, behind them, stealthy activists entered the auditorium and stretched a large banner that read “North Pacific Council: 100,000+ People Want You to Protect Bering Sea Canyons.” The other activists waited on standby to execute a more exciting act. Their wait, however, ended, not with a text reading “GO,” but a celebratory round of fresh Alaskan microbrews on a beautiful, sunny day to celebrate our success in convincing the council to begin a process to identify areas of coral and sponge concentration in the canyons and management measure to protect them.
The next day, I ditched the blouses and blazers, tossed on my hiking boots, and off we were, visiting the natural beauty of what’s left of Alaska’s pristine glaciers, dancing in the mist of Nugget Falls, and listening to the sounds of graceful humpback whales calling to each other during a hunt as the Alaskan sun set, saturated and spectacular, over the wild frontier of the Arctic. Thank you for your support on this campaign.
- written by Christine St. Pierre.
Christine is a Team Leader in the Seattle Frontline Office and volunteer leader for the Bering Sea Canyons campaign.