Greenpeace ship will study unexplored Arctic ocean habitats threatened by Shell's drilling program

Media release - July 6, 2012
Dutch Harbor, Alaska - July 6, 2012 - The Greenpeace ship Esperanza will depart Friday from Dutch Harbor on an Arctic expedition to study unexplored ocean habitats threatened by offshore oil drilling, as well as industrial fishing fleets. The "Save the Arctic" tour will employ an array of modern research tools including small submarines, acoustic monitoring equipment, and unmanned aerial vehicles, and begins as Shell’s drill rigs approach their staging ground in Dutch Harbor to await further melting of the Arctic sea ice.

“We’re headed to the Arctic to show how little is known about this pristine ecosystem before Shell's rigs move in to destroy it. Instead of recognizing the grave warning of melting sea ice, Shell is planning to drill for more of the oil that caused the melting in the first place. We have to break this vicious cycle of corporate greed and work together to save the Arctic,” said Jackie Dragon, Lead Arctic Campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

Since Greenpeace launched its Save the Arctic campaign in Rio on June 21st, nearly 500,000 people have joined together to call for the area around the high Arctic to be made into a global sanctuary and the wider region put off limits to industrial development. The first leg of the Esperanza ship tour includes submarine research in the deep canyons of the Bering Sea, to study the largest underwater canyons in the world and help protect unique ecosystems from overfishing and destructive fishing methods like trawling. During the second leg, scientists on board the Esperanza will use the submersibles and acoustic monitoring equipment to document the marine habitats and wildlife threatened by Shell's plans for exploratory drilling this summer. 

This submarine diving in the area of Shell’s planned drilling locations will be the first ever research submarine exploration of the Chukchi Sea, just before offshore drilling is scheduled to begin. The submersibles are equipped with indexing lasers, HD video cameras, and robotic arms to retrieve samples and can dive to a depth of 2000 feet (610 meters).

"There has been very little consideration of the impacts of drilling - or an oil spill - on the unique marine life of the Chukchi Sea. Very little is known about the Arctic seafloor, and yet Shell is willing to gamble it all before we even know what's in our hand," said John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA. "Previous research has shown the Chukchi to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, with a large portion of the marine life living on the seafloor. As we saw in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Horizon disaster, oil can completely cover the bottom, turning areas rich in corals, starfish, crabs, and other marine life into a wasteland."

Besides the Esperanza tour, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is sailing in the Fram Strait between Svalbard, Norway and Greenland with scientists, 3D scanning experts, and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to capture the true shape of Arctic sea ice for the first time.

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Contacts: Joe Smyth, on board the Esperanza, to arrange satellite phone interviews during the expedition

Myriam Fallon, in Washington DC, 215-525-0145,  

Photos from the tour are available upon request, and at http://photo.greenpeace.org/C.aspx?VP3=ViewBox_VPage&ALID=27MZIFVYXF4L&CT=Album 

Notes:

People can learn more about the threats facing the Arctic and sign the scroll at www.SaveTheArctic.org. Detailed information about the campaign for a global sanctuary in the high Arctic is available in this campaign briefing:  http://www.greenpeace.org//international/Global/international/briefings/climate/Save-The-Arctic.doc 

The Esperanza is Greenpeace's largest ship, and joined the fleet in 2002. At 237 feet (72 meters) and with a top speed of 16 knots, the ship is ideal for fast and long range work, while its ice class status means it can work in polar regions. The ship is equipped with a helicopter deck, rigid hull inflatable boats, and was refitted in as environmentally friendly manner as possible. More information about the Esperanza: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/about/ships/the-esperanza/