What It’s Like to Be a Kayaktivist in the Way of Shell’s Giant Rig

Paloma Henriques, Kayaktivist

My colleagues and I put ourselves between Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig and its destination in the Arctic. I still feel the sway of the sea from spending the night on the Solar Pioneer barge, a floating organizing platform that serves as a beacon of hope in West Seattle. Even though the rig got through our blockade, I know our action was one of many to come as people around the world wake up to not just the dangers of Arctic drilling but the planetary suicide that our current fossil fuel dependent system spells.

Protesting The Polar Pioneer's Trip To The Arctic

I was nervous getting into the water, knowing that I was literally confronting one of the most powerful multinational corporations in the world, Royal Dutch Shell, by paddling my small person-powered kayak and getting in the way of a monstrous yellow, blue and white Arctic destroyer.

For days, I had a view of the Polar Pioneer as it stood towering at Terminal Five in the mouth of the Duwamish. The rig is a symbol of the system we need to change and a very real target we need to stop.

We paddled out to meet the rig before the crack of dawn. My kayak was heavily weighed down with overnight gear with plans that the occupation would last, keeping the rig out of the Arctic as long as possible. Once we got near the Polar Pioneer, we deployed a floating rope across the Duwamish and a gigantic banner that read SHELL NO. Coast Guard and Harbor Police confronted us in boats as soon as we got near the rig and moved to cut our rope and reel it in.


As the sun rose on a beautiful Seattle day dozens of other kayakers joined me and my friends on the water after getting signaled by organizers that the rig was about to leave. It was beautiful to see folks of all ages and places, from Seattle to Washington DC and even some foreign nationals. Indigenous Canoe families paddled next to a small boat carrying the Raging Grannies, and a rainbow of kayaks dotted the Duwamish River. Some were singing, others were silently paddling, or trying to communicate with Police vessels. I shared smiles of solidarity with other kayakers, the looks in our eyes silently encouraging each other. I felt so thankful to be able to be a part of such a beautiful resistance and privileged beyond belief to be on the front lines that day.

We struggled to stand our ground until some were corralled and pulled in with hooked metal poles to be plucked out of their kayaks and escorted into the holds of Police boats. I tried to stay as long as I could, knowing that every moment we were in the way was a moment that Shell was not drilling in the Arctic.

There are so many reasons why Arctic drilling is a terrible idea and each of them could easily stand on its own. It’s not only about the millions of people that live in and around the arctic circle whose livelihoods and culture depend on the ecosystem being intact – though that should be reason enough not to drill. Nor is it just about the beluga whales, narwhals, polar bears, arctic foxes and other wildlife, some already endangered – though that should be reason enough to protect one of our last intact wild places. Drilling in the arctic is about all of us. This whole planet. We can’t afford to burn the oil under the Arctic if we want to have a safe and healthy planet that supports life as we know it. That’s why we all need to take action now to stop Arctic drilling, create a global sanctuary in the uninhabited of the North Pole, and demand renewable energy like wind and solar.

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