Everyone knows dumping trash into the ocean is a bad idea, right? Well, apparently not everyone. At a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. delegation—led by the U.S. Coast Guard—opposed a proposal to ban the dumping of garbage in the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic is one of Earth’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of the world’s largest seabird populations and iconic wildlife like polar bears, belugas and the extremely long-lived bowhead whale. The unspoiled nature of the Arctic doesn’t mean it’s without threats.
In fact, today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges from oil and gas development and other industrial activity, increasing water temperatures and climate change impacts—all jeopardizing the integrity of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Adding ocean trash to this list of pressures is simply not acceptable.
Ocean Conservancy is working to help employ science-based solutions that will ensure Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. Allowing vessels to deliberately dump waste into the Arctic just doesn’t fit into the equation for a resilient Arctic ecosystem.
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Last year ended badly for the two drill rigs used by Shell Oil for its Arctic operations. A Coast Guard inspection in late November revealed significant problems with safety and pollution prevention equipment aboard the drillship Noble Discoverer. More recently—and more dramatically—a powerful storm in the North Pacific drove Shell’s drilling unit Kulluk aground off the coast of Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska. Fortunately, the Coast Guard evacuated the Kulluk’s crew before the drilling unit grounded and so far, there are have been no serious injuries. The operation to salvage the Kulluk is ongoing, and we hope that all responders and salvors stay safe.
The Kulluk’s problems began on Thursday, December 27 when heavy seas snapped the towline between the Kulluk and Shell’s tug, the Aiviq. Crews managed to reestablish the towline connecting the vessels, but the Aiviq then experienced total engine failure, leaving both tug and tow adrift in rough seas and high winds. Shell sent additional vessels to the scene to assist, and the Coast Guard responded with two cutters and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters. At Shell’s request, the Coast Guard evacuated the 18-person crew of the Kulluk on December 29. Coast Guard helicopters delivered engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq that enabled repair of the tug’s engines but—despite repeated efforts over the course of several days—neither the Aiviq nor any of the other response vessels were able to tow the Kulluk to safety.
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