This is a global challenge, as the oil industry’s record in the Russian Arctic makes clear; tons of oil are spilled on land each year, and every 18 months more than four million barrels spews into the Arctic Ocean – nearly as much as BP spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. As other oil companies seek to exploit the melting sea ice and begin drilling in Arctic waters, we know we need a global movement to draw a line in the ice and protect this fragile region. More than a million people have come together calling for a global sanctuary in the high Arctic, and a ban on offshore drilling and unsustainable fishing in Arctic waters, and more are joining every day.
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 →
Northern Fur Seals breed at the Reef Point rookery on the island of St. Paul in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Photo by Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
As we arrived to St George Island last Friday night, Greenpeace USA’s Alaskan Oceans Campaigner, George Pletnikoff, tipped us off to an experience that could not be missed. George, who grew up on the island, told us about a cliff down the shore that is home to hundreds of thousands of birds: “When you get really close it’s like entering into a cathedral. It’s fantastic!”