Action Points

by Kieran Mulvaney

August 19, 2007

I had an interesting conversation with George last night—it would admittedly be difficult to have any other kind of conversation with George—during which we touched on the meaning of “action” in a Greenpeace context, particularly as it applies to this expedition.

Both inside and outside the organization, the traditional view of Greenpeace action is of non-violent confrontation: driving inflatables between whales and harpoons, for example, or sailing a ship to a nuclear test site.

But taking action can take many different forms, and be no less effective for doing so. The canyons leg of this expedition is a classic example: working almost round the clock every day for three weeks, the crew of the Esperanza and the scientists who joined them on board were able to provide exactly the kind of documentation needed to provide a legal case for banning bottom trawling in the Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons.

That would be a huge accomplishment, and a pretty impressive achievement for three weeks’ work. Of course, there’s more involved than the documentation itself: gathering the evidence is the first part, and working to ensure the implementation and enforcement of conservation measures will at best take many months more yet.

Much the same applies to the community outreach legs. Here, too, we’re taking action: not just by providing an opportunity for the people of the Bering Sea region to explain their way of life, and express their concerns and fears, to the rest of the world; but also by demonstrating to those communities that we share similar concerns—about overfishing, global warming, and environmental change—and, hopefully, by countering the negative impressions that some Alaska Native communities, particularly those here in the Pribilof Islands, harbor about Greenpeace.

The results of our work won’t become evident in days, weeks, or even months. These visits won’t yield banner headlines. They won’t provide action footage to run in rotation on cable news channels. What they can do is lay the groundwork for something more tangible and longer-lasting, an effective means of not only ending over-fishing in, and protecting the wildlife and ecosystems of, the Bering Sea region but also ensuring the sustainable continuation of the subsistence way of life of the people who live here.

We are presently anchored just off St. George Island—which, like the good ship Esperanza, is enveloped in fog. After the warm, bright, and calm conditions of Saturday, the swells began to rise overnight: not that much, but enough to briefly rouse at least one person from his slumber, and to remind him he’s happy to be on such a comfortable and capable ocean-going ship, as opposed to some of the other vessels with which he’s braved some of the more remote regions of the world in the past.

“This is more like the Bering Sea I know,” said Pete, the captain, as he arrived in the wheelhouse this morning to be greeted by gray sea and sky.

“I wonder,” added Diek, the second mate as twenty knots of blustery Bering Sea howled outside, “how, with all this wind, there can still be so much fog?”

The wind has now died down, but the fog remains, lifting occasionally as the sun occasionally wins the battle and burns off one patch, only for more to roll in off the sea. There has been no repetition of yesterday’s incredible scenes, when we encountered thick clouds of shearwaters and at least fifty feeding humpback whales; but on our journey to St. George we were accompanied by a good number of fin whales, one of which surfaced tantalizingly close off our port bow, before disappearing anew into the mist and sea.

George is ashore now, on the island where he was born, making initial contact prior to a meeting with the tribal council, and a broader community gathering, tomorrow. For many of us, the next two weeks provide entry to a world we do not know and have never seen. For George, it is a journey home.





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