What I Learned Touring the Atlantic Coast Aboard the Arctic Sunrise

by Kate Melges

November 28, 2017

The Arctic Sunrise just finished a month-long tour down the eastern seaboard, addressing climate issues at every turn. The tour concluded in Puerto Rico, with a delegation of climate organizers and activists working in solidarity with rural communities, in an effort to help rebuild the island in a way that is equitable, sustainable and just.

For a better part of a month, I joined the crew aboard the historic Arctic Sunrise, traveling the eastern seaboard to protect our coast, communities, and climate. I was inspired to by the thousands of people we met along the way, all of whom are deeply invested in the health of their communities and the defense of our oceans. There were many developments along the way — some good, some disheartening — but all eye-opening in countless ways.

Actress and director Bonnie Wright, known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter film series, center, joins Greenpeace staffers Kate Melges, left, and Maddy Carretero as they hold up some of the plastics they found while with the Arctic Sunrise.

 Plastics, plastics everywhere…

 Part of our work along the Atlantic coast was to trawl for plastic debris in the ocean — to see how much we would find, and subsequently connect it back to the corporations who are producing it. The results were depressing at best. From New York to Miami and beyond, we recovered loads of plastic and polystyrene — straws, soft film, microplastics — you name it, we found it clogging up our net. The single-use plastic we use every day is having a profound effect on our oceans and marine life, choking our wildlife and routinely being ingested by fish, birds and marine mammals.

Recovering acoustic equipment to protect marine sanctuaries

The Arctic Sunrise has a unique capability to provide scientists with the opportunity to carry out environmental research within the region our ship is located. With the potential of seismic blasting and oil drilling threating our marine sanctuaries, we invited three scientists from across the U.S. to facilitate the recovery of acoustic monitoring equipment from the Snowy Grouper Wreck Marine Protected Area, off the coast of North Carolina.

Bruce Thayre, Bioacoustician, right, and Josh Jones, Phd. Candidate in Biological Oceanography, test some of their equipment on the deck of the Arctic Sunrise. Greenpeace partnered with researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Whale Acoustics Laboratory to use acoustic monitoring equipment that will help estimate sound exposure levels on marine mammals including whales and dolphins.

They were able to collect data from the equipment that measured the long-term behavior of whales in Atlantic waters. This information is tremendously valuable in understanding the potential damage that seismic blasting can have on marine life. For these fish and marine mammals, it’s like having dynamite repeatedly exploding around you, day in and day out. This practice is extremely dangerous with potentially deadly consequences. We can’t rely on the Trump Administration to respect our Marine Protected Areas, so I’m very proud we were able to support this type of research.

Supporting a Just Recovery in Puerto Rico

Following Hurricane Maria, President Trump’s horrific response to the dire situation in Puerto Rico highlighted again how U.S. governmental policy towards the island is deeply rooted in institutionalized racism. We realized we were in a unique situation to offer aid and supplies to various communities on the island, while they began organizing a Just Recovery model — one vastly different from the previous version involving corporate-driven disaster capitalism.

A delegation of environmental justice organizers and advocates joined the crew of the Arctic Sunrise to provide supplies to numerous rural communities across the island. With over 60% of the region still without power when we arrived, it was critical for us to work in solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico. Helping to facilitate a Just Recovery means that the communities themselves get to determine their own interests regarding infrastructure, energy production, and their future — not by handing the reigns over to corporate entities and lobbyists.

Arctic Sunrise Departs New York 2017

The Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise departs New York displaying a message of support for Puerto Rico.

In conjunction with the Our Power Puerto Rico campaign and our local partner, Organizacion Boricua, we were able to set up distribution plans and provide critically needed supplies, such as water purifiers and solar panels. It was also vitally important to have an open dialog about what a Just Recovery might look like on the island and how we could help contribute to it. There is still much to be done, and numerous organizations are in place to continue facilitating a long-term and sustainable recovery for all Puerto Ricans.

Together we can protect our coasts, communities, and climate from the onslaught of the Trump Administration, and the corporations who continue to use our oceans as a dumping ground and see our communities as mere dollar signs. All those I met on this tour that stood in solidarity against these various forms of tyranny left me humbled and energized to keep up the fight.

Kate Melges

By Kate Melges

Kate Melges is an oceans campaigner based in Seattle. She leads Greenpeace’s Ocean Plastics work. Kate’s focus is ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean.

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