Sunrise near the Bering Strait this early morning. Photo by Sune Scheller / Greenpeace
We have now crossed the Polar Circle with the Esperanza and we are in the Arctic, and the Chukchi Sea. Here in this extremely fragile environment, Shell is planning to drill for oil. Home to bowhead whales, polar bears, walrus, numerous species of birds and other animals – this is no place for oil drilling!
Even though today is a fairly calm and peaceful day at sea this is an incredibly harsh environment. Intense gales, unpredictable ice and its extreme remoteness means an oil spill here would be catastrophic. A clean up here would be an exercise in the impossible; it would make the clean up after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico look like a walk in the park.
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 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.
Today, factory trawl ships pull up over a million tons of fish here each year and their enormous nets scrape along the seafloor, destroying coral habitats in these submarine canyons that are critical for fish, crabs and other marine life.
After years of Greenpeace and others calling for their protection, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council declined once again in 2006 to protect these canyons, saying there wasn’t enough information available about the canyons to justify action.
We are not very good at taking no for an answer when it comes to defending the planet, so we took the Council’s decision as a challenge. In 2007, we set out with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, along with two small submarines, to explore the canyons and provide the council with the data it said was missing.
These corals, sponges, and other marine life are currently unprotected, and could be destroyed by enormous trawl nets dragged throughZhemchug Canyon. 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!”
George Pletnikoff speaks at a community meeting on St. George Island, Bering Sea Alaska. Photo: Greenpeace/Jiri Rezac
By George Pletnikoff, Alaska Oceans Campaigner
Coming home to St. George sparks a lot of memories. I was very fortunate to grow up in this close knit island community of friends and family that provided for me in my formative years. The abundance of northern fur seals and over 150 different species of marine birds, nesting on thousand foot cliffs lining the northern shore, were a natural laboratory in which to grow. I always new this was a place I had to protect and my family continues to make a pilgrimage each year to return to the seal rookeries and bird cliffs.
A fulmar flies off St. George Island, Bering Sea Alaska
It also sparks memories of the Esperanza’s visit during its 2007 tour to protect the Bering Sea, the largest food fishery in the United States, that is threatened by large industrial fishing trawlers. Continue reading →
Steller sea lion in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Photo: Greenpeace/Jiri Rezac
We stopped in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska this week, A remote area with spectacular views and wildlife, that will be the staging area for Shell’s Arctic drilling program later this month. Continue reading →
Early this morning you reached 500,000 signatures to Save the Arctic. That’s halfway to our goal of gathering one million people who want to protect the area around the North Pole from dangerous oil drilling, industrial fishing and militarization.
The crew of the Esperanza couldn’t be more inspired as we head north on our Save the Arctic Tour. So thank you!