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Activists damage habitat in Seattle bay during Shell oil protests

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SEATTLE | BY ERIC M. JOHNSON: World | Sat May 23, 2015 2:00am BST

Activists damage habitat in Seattle bay during Shell oil protests

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Environmental activists who fanned out in small boats across a Seattle bay over the weekend in a protest over Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L)’s plans for Arctic oil exploration in the have damaged “precious habitat” on the sea floor, a state official said on Friday.

Cables used to moor a 4,000 square foot (370 square metre) floating barge dubbed “The People’s Platform” to the floor of Elliott Bay became wrapped around an old steel piling and pulled it over, disturbing aquatic habitat, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Smillie said.

“It’s a pretty precious habitat down there,” Smillie said. “Anytime you disturb it and move it there are implications to the food web.”

The area is a popular underwater “dive park” for people who venture below the waves to see octopuses, sea stars and anemones, among other aquatic life.

Environmental groups have vowed to disrupt the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s efforts to use Seattle’s port as a home base for two of its drilling rigs destined for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, saying drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe.

The solar-powered barge was used as a platform for speeches and a musical “jam session” over the weekend, said John Sellers, founder of the activist group Mosquito Fleet.

Sellers said he apologised for the damage, which was limited, and said crews have anchored the barge in a new area deemed by divers to be a less sensitive “underwater desert,” and materials used to moor the barge were left on the sea floor.

Activists will not face a fine, though they will have to pay for any cleanup costs, which have not yet been calculated, Smillie said, adding that activists have submitted an application for an extended-use permit for the barge from the state.

“Of course the last thing we wanted to do was to do any harm to the sea life,” said Bill Moyer, executive director of the Backbone Campaign. “If we could do damage by putting down an anchor, imagine how much damage an oil rig could do in the Arctic.”

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler)


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Shell protest barge off Alki had own environmental issues

By Erik Lacitis

Seattle Times staff reporter

Originally published May 22, 2015 at 8:58 pm

A “People’s Platform” protest barge that was anchored off Alki was moved Friday because it was over an area that is important to divers and where octopuses are protected from being harvested.

Things happen.

Last week, you decide to anchor a 4,000-square-foot barge, “The People’s Platform,” off Alki to protest the Shell oil rig that’s here.

But what happens?

You park in a site valued by divers and deemed off-limits by the state for recreational harvest of the octopus. You do this using a couple of concrete blocks, weighing a ton each, attached to an inch-diameter steel cable.

You end up anchoring on top of a giant Pacific octopus some 80 feet below, one that could be nesting on a bunch of eggs.

The cables and blocks were spread away from the octopus, so no problem there.

Still, the location of the protest didn’t sit too well with the local scuba-diving community.

It worried that as the tides came and went, the cable would wrap itself around stuff, and cause damage to a home for marine life.

What can you say, but:

“It caught us by surprise. We clearly didn’t have any intention of doing damage to a dive park. It was an honest mistake,” says John Sellers, of Vashon, who led the protest-barge campaign.

On Friday afternoon, the barge was towed a short distance north, away from its spot by Seacrest Park to just off Don Armeni Park.

That new anchoring spot was fine with various agencies involved, and the scuba divers.

“It’s a fairly desolate area. There’s no structures down there,” says Koos du Preez, president of the local branch of a diving nonprofit, Global Underwater Explorers, about the new location.

What makes the first anchor spot such prime diving isn’t any natural formation. It’s not big rocks or coral.

It’s old boats that were sunk off Alki. It’s timbers that were dumped. It’s pilings from broken-down piers.

“Marine life likes those structures, make them their home,” says du Preez.

Diving in the Pacific Northwest isn’t like in the Caribbean or Hawaii.

“You don’t get the tropical animals. It’s not colorful,” says du Preez. “It’s a different biodiversity we have here.”

That means catching a glimpse of that giant Pacific octopus, maybe as it nests on thousands of eggs.

Or catching sight of a wolf eel, which is not an eel, but a fish that some might describe as, well, rather ugly.

When you look at videos of diving off Alki, you see a lot of murkiness and featureless bottom.

In its foray into public waters, The People’s Platform protesters learned what commercial maritime types learn early on.

Lots of rules.

The Coast Guard came on board and found violations.

Those have been fixed, says a spokeswoman, after The People’s Platform got fire extinguishers, red lights, green lights and white navigational lights and “a sound-producing device” in case of fog.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources had divers inspect where the barge was originally anchored, and found “minimal damage” from the concrete and steel cable.

It says the barge can stay in its new location for up to 30 days without authorization if it’s not used for commercial purposes.

Sellers says his group wants to do the right thing and work with the divers on what to do with the concrete blocks and steel cable. For now, they have been left at the bottom off Seacrest Park.

Sellers says he’d like the protest barge to stay as long as the Shell oil rig is here.

It features solar panel and wind turbines, with a giant screen and a whole bunch of amplified speakers that promise to “light up the night with massive projections exposing Shell’s horrendous track record.”

It’ll certainly be a different kind of message for the warm-weather cruisers who like to drive up and down Alki.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or [email protected] Twitter @ErikLacitis

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