Seacrest Park in West Seattle, with protesters' barge and Shell's oil rig in the background 
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Seacrest Park in West Seattle, with protesters' barge and Shell's oil rig in the background
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Arctic-Drilling Protesters To Move Barge After Damaging Popular Dive Site

Protesters of Arctic drilling have run afoul of the ocean environment in their own small way.

In addition to assembling a flotilla of kayaks on Seattle's Elliott Bay last weekend, the activists brought in a construction barge. It's a solar-powered platform for protests against Shell Oil's plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. But the protesters anchored their solar barge over one of Seattle's most popular sites for scuba diving.


Divers complained this week on Facebook about the protest barge's anchors. They said anchor lines were snagging pilings and other old debris that's turned into habitat over the years.

John Sellers of Vashon Island is an organizer of the protest. We spoke on board the barge they call the Solar Pioneer.

Sellers: "We made an unfortunate mistake in anchoring here. We weren't aware that this was a very special place for giant octopus, and it's sort of a hallowed ground for divers."

Sellers says he got a permit from the Coast Guard to anchor the barge near West Seattle's Seacrest Park. He had hoped to anchor closer to the Shell's Polar Pioneer oil rig at the Port of Seattle, but that could've been really bad for the underwater environment.

Sellers: "At the mouth of Duwamish is where we wanted to anchor, but that's a Superfund site, and no one's allowed to anchor there because if you disturb the sediment on the bottom, you're animating all kinds of super-toxic stuff."

On Wednesday night, some concerned divers checked out the area where the barge did anchor. They saw the damage wasn't as bad as they had feared.

Sellers: "When we were anchoring, we did some damage, but it's fairly minimal. But we're still really concerned about it, and we want to mitigate or do restoration for any damage that we've created, and we want to get out of this location as quickly as we can without doing any further damage."

Pulling up the anchors might cause more damage. So the activists plan to leave their recycled-concrete anchors behind, where they will add to the junk-filled urban habitat that divers and octopus like to explore.

Sellers is waiting for permission to move the barge a little more than half a mile up the West Seattle shoreline.

Divers told him the new spot supports little underwater life.

Sellers says the mayor's office and the city attorney are helping them navigate a maze of red tape.

Mayor Ed Murray has voiced his opposition to Arctic drilling.

Before Shell's oil rig arrived in Seattle last week, Murray announced that it did not have permission to do so. The rig came anyway. So did hundreds of protesters concerned about global climate change and the risk of oil spills in the remote and icy Arctic Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard evicted the protesters from their barge Tuesday night for safety concerns. They were allowed back on board after acquiring a navigational light, an air horn and three fire extinguishers.

The city has told Shell its rig needs to leave or get new permits by June 4th.