Mosquito Fleet, a group protesting the presence of Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil rig in Seattle, has recently moored a “protest barge” off of Seacrest Park in West Seattle. It now floats above Cove 2, one of Puget Sound’s most well-known dive sites, and has inflicted some rather extensive damage on the structure and marine life there. Several concrete blocks were dropped on the eastern side of the site in order to anchor the barge. These knocked over some of the jackstraw pilings, which used to be covered with gorgeous white plumose anemones (Metridium). They also came precariously close to the Honey Bear, a sunken vessel that currently serves as a den for a large giant Pacific octopus, an iconic local species that is protected in Washington. A map of the site can be found here. All of the affected structures can be found in approximately 55 feet of water.
My friend Erin and I headed out to Cove 2 yesterday afternoon with the GoPro with the intention of cataloguing the damage. As you can see in the video, several of the jackstraw pilings have been felled, and the anemones that had been residing on them litter the bottom, many of them dead or dying. There were numerous ratfish on the scene, presumably there to scavenge whatever was churned up by the anchors dragging through the site and the collapse of the pilings. Luckily, the Honey Bear was mostly unscathed, and the octopus was still in its den when we visited. We stayed away from the cables due to safety concerns.
The structure covered in anemones at 0:42 is one of the angled pilings that was left unscathed. There used to be several of them crisscrossing one another. Beginning at 1:17, you can start to see some of the devastation left by the collapse of one of these pilings. Hundreds of anemones lie scattered about the bottom.
The damage to the site is apparent in the video. An article in the Stranger, however, has decided that this is not such big deal after all. Well I’m glad that’s settled!
And before you get too excited about the irony of an environmentalist barge mucking up an underwater dive park: Divers actually found very little damage to the park after all. If the barge had simply ripped up the cables without talking to the divers, that would have been another story, according to Global Underwater Education Seattle (GUE Seattle) president Koos du Preez.
I strongly disagree with this assessment of the situation. The structures that were knocked over have been there for decades and have provided valuable habitat for a wide variety of marine life. The devastation documented in this video clearly constitutes far more than the “very little damage”. But yes, I do agree that the damage would be much more extensive if they just rip out the cables. A fellow member of the Marker Buoy Dive Club indicated that the cable is wrapped around another piling, and that if it is moved, it will strip away all of the marine life. Let’s hope that Mosquito Fleet hires commercial divers to untangle this mess when they finally decide to move the barge.
When I communicated with Mosquito Fleet organizers via Twitter yesterday, they appeared to have no idea that their barge was parked on top of a dive site. This is consistent with their statement to the Stranger yesterday.
Kelly Mears, a crew member of the People’s Platform, said the idea that the barge may have disrupted something below the surface was personally upsetting. “The reason we chose to anchor where we did is that NOAA maps indicate it as a ‘general anchorage area,'” she wrote by e-mail. “We also cleared this site with the Coast Guard.””We certainly did not intend to damage any ecological systems in the process of anchoring,” Mears added. “It makes me kind of ill to hear that we may have, despite what I consider due diligence.”
I seriously doubt that these people did their due diligence. The sites off of Alki beach are very well known, and are frequented by numerous divers day and night. If they had spent any time near the area or bothered to research it at all, they would have known this. John Sellers, the ringmaster of this circus, lives in the Puget Sound region, and the majority of people who reside in this area know that Alki is a popular dive destination.
As of today, the barge has passed its second Coast Guard inspection (it failed the first due to numerous serious safety issues), and is still floating over our trashed dive site. It remains to be seen what will be done to rectify this environmental injustice, if anything. Many local divers, myself included, would like to see the Alki coves become part of Washington’s underwater park system so that another mistake similar to this one doesn’t happen in the future.