Greetings from the Chukchi Sea, way up in the Arctic north of Alaska, where the team aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza is using a small submarine to study the seafloor in the area Shell hopes to begin drilling for oil this summer. During what we believe to be the first research submarine dives ever in the Chukchi Sea, we were surprised to discover large numbers of corals in the midst of Shell’s proposed drill site.
I leap from our small boat into the surf to step onto the beach at Pt. Hope, the longest continually inhabited place in North America, and the community on Alaska’s most north western point. The Mayor, Steve Oomittuk, waits at the top of the sandy bluff to welcome the first boatload of Greenpeace visitors coming ashore from the Esperanza, anchored a few miles off the point. We’ve come to visit with the community, to hear from the people who live on the edge of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic, where Shell plans to begin drilling for oil in a few weeks time. We’ve been invited to have a meeting with the community. We want to tell them of the research we will be doing here, taking a small submarine down into the Chukchi to see what life is at risk on the seafloor close to the sites where Shell plans to drill. We want to hear what they have to say about drilling in their waters. Continue reading →
I have been at the mercy of a scientist these past couple days. Kelly Newman, pictured, is an acoustician, a scientist specializing in the study of sound, from the University of Alaska, and with hydrophones we’ve been out in an inflatable boat doing audio recordings for her Ph.D. research. Today we were recording along the ice edge here in the Chukchi Sea deep in the Arctic. We’re floating just a few miles from where Shell is planning to drill for oil this summer. Continue reading →
When Shell lost control of its drill rig Noble Discoverer last week near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, many wondered, “How on earth could they have let that happen?” Shell spokespeople in Anchorage claimed that the vessel “drifted near shore,” despite numerous eyewitness accounts that the ship ran aground and became stuck until a tug boat pulled it free. Photographs quickly emerged that call Shell’s claims into question.
It’s no surprise that a huge oil company bent on profits from Arctic drilling would mount a desperate effort to control public perception of such an accident. But because this happened in a protected harbor instead of miles from shore, Shell’s dubious claims must contend with eyewitnesses, photographs, journalists, and a US Coast Guard investigation. So far, the Coast Guard has said that, “While the vessel master reported he did not believe the vessel grounded, this cannot be confirmed by the Coast Guard at this time” and media accounts state that the investigation may take weeks or months.
However, key questions remain about the scope of the Coast Guard’s investigation. Continue reading →
One million signed to save the Arctic in just four weeks! Across the world Greenpeace activists have been peacefully protesting Shell’s Arctic drilling plans in gas stations, offices and online.
One of them is Tereapii Williams, bosun onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. From his home on the Cook Islands he has come to the Arctic with the rest of the crew to save his family’s “big air conditioner”.
If you’re a SCUBA diver, you’ve probably got a favorite wall dive. It’s hard to beat the feeling of moving slowly up a steep reef, with dense marine life above and below. I’ll always remember my first deep wall dive, on a visit to Curacao as a teenager in the 80s.
My new favorite, though, involves a submarine rather than SCUBA. After a few dozen dives in Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons, on the Bering Sea shelf break, I thought I had some idea of what to expect: gradual slope, soft sediment bottom, with coral and sponge density somewhere around 1 per square meter. So when we dropped onto a near vertical wall with nearly 100% invertebrate cover at 270 meters, I was giggling like a fourteen year old.
Guest blog by Kirk Sato, PhD Student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD.
After sleeping overnight on an airport bench in Anchorage, low-lying fog conditions in St. preventing me from flying in on schedule, I arrived on the small island of St. George and was greeted by none other than the Mayor of St. George, Patrick “Pat” Pletnikoff. What better opportunity to fulfill my role as a scientist than to step off of a small plane in the middle of the Bering Sea to chat with a native Aleut Alaskan, to talk marine policy, fisheries management, oceanography, and climate change?
St. George is also home to more than a million Northern Fur Seals, and was once the center of commercial seal harvesting for the United States. I can hear the fur seals calling across the small bay from restricted beaches and I can see them in the distance jumping out of the water, undoubtedly hunting for fish. Dozens are floating in the calm summer morning ocean with their fins in the air on this clear afternoon.
Northern Fur Seal. Photo: Kirk Sato
As the sun sets around 11:30 pm, I begin reading a white paper about the Pribilof Domain (an area that includes Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons as well as St. Paul and St. George Islands. The paper includes Pat’s testimony to Congress on the still unrealized Fur Seal Act Amendments “intended to promote and develop a ‘stable, self-sufficient, enduring and diversified economy not dependent on sealing.” Pat advocates well for his community saying, “We are a small boat fishing community only desiring the ability to make a living from our waters in a responsible and respectful manner. We want to protect the surrounding waters of our island, the fur seals and sea birds. Today, our people and wildlife that call St. George home is suffering. We ask for help to change this.” Continue reading →
The submarine is retrieved from the water above the Zhemchug Canyon. Photo: Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
Guest blog by Pavel Petrov, a volunteer mate from Bulgaria onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.
We are on a mission to document and explore the world’s largest underwater canyons here in the Bering Sea. While we were watching the submarine resurface from a dive we witnessed the very reason why we are here. We saw hundreds of birds waiting for the easy prey. However, we are not the industrial fishing trawler discarding a massive amount of dead fish that the birds thought we were.
The wildlife here in the Bering Sea never ceases to amaze you. With the Waitt Institute’s submarine we are exploring the world’s largest underwater canyons. The other day our onboard campaigner, Jackie Dragon, uncovered a grand and rare skate nursery.
On a recent dive two curious and playful seals joined our diver at the surface. We got it on video and added a little music.