In transit to St. Paul Island Alaska
by Guest Blogger
July 12, 2006
The following posting is from oceans campaigner George, who is onboard in the Bering Sea…
We all know how difficult it is to say good bye to family and friends. For me, saying good bye or a “see you later” to my home and the many wonderful people of St. George Island this time seemed more difficult than times before.
Maybe its because I don’t know when I will visit next, or maybe its because visiting home and the people just becomes all the more special the older one gets. Whatever the reason, we are leaving St. George Island and all its wonders behind, going forward on our journey. Although the distance between St. George and St. Paul is only 40 miles, in the Bering Sea, those 40 miles are a long way.
I honestly did not know what to expect returning home with a boatload of Greenpeace activists, but I soon found out. As I mentioned earlier, I did get many, many “welcome home” greetings. And to my delight, so did our crew. The people literally opened their doors and invited us in. I recorded five interviews with local leaders while John spent an afternoon with researchers looking at the health of the island’s fur seal population. And in the evening, we had our community meeting. And what a meeting it was!
After brief introductions and an outline of what Greenpeace is here to do, we opened the floor to discussion. The response and questions were wonderful. Along with questions about what Greenpeace is doing here, about the killer whale research, and some concerns about the community’s subsistence activities, the talk began to center on factory trawlers.
What can we do to ensure the needs of the community are met, both our subsistence halibut needs as well as the small commercial halibut fishery? How can we make sure that the factory trawlers keep a reasonable distance off the shores of St. George Island? Is it necessary for them to drop their nets as close as one or two miles from the beach and begin their tows? Is there a way we can respect one another’s needs and still continue to fish? Will we ever be able to see a time when the once healthy stocks of halibut return? Localized depletion is a major concern. Along with this are the ever-nagging questions about the health of populations of birds, fur seals and sea lions that help provide food to get people through the long Bering Sea winters.
There were also questions about toxic contamination of marine life. Are the animals we have lived on for thousands of years still healthy? An elder I interviewed said: “We don’t eat them (traditional foods) any longer. They (outsiders who come to the Islands for research and other reasons) keep telling us about contaminants and other diseases, like the bird flu.” It is so sad. Our traditional foods are much healthier for us to eat than the burgers and other processed foods now taking a larger role in our diets. Hypertension and diabetes are very common in our people, and cancer is increasingly taking a toll.
As the meeting went on, the Tribal President began to voice a litany of concerns and observations about the environment. And then he said something that I did not expect to hear. He said, “let’s work together to try to find solutions to these problems.” Needless to say, John and I were both excited and humbled when thinking about what we can do to help make a difference for our wonderful Unangan family of St. George Island.
As we departed the harbor in the dark of night, with winds blowing from the northeast at about 25 knots, the dim lights on the Island began fading in the mist. St. George Island… What a wonderful place… a beautiful place. What will the future bring? When will we return, and return we must. My home. My people.
Note: George was born and raised on the Pribilof Islands, is Aleut (Unangan) and has worked on environmental issues with the Bering Sea for almost 30 years.