A “People’s Platform” protest barge that was anchored off Alki was moved Friday because it was over an area that is important to divers and where octopuses are protected from being harvested.
Last week, you decide to anchor a 4,000-square-foot barge, “The People’s Platform,” off Alki to protest the Shell oil rig that’s here.
But what happens?
You park in a site valued by divers and deemed off-limits by the state for recreational harvest of the octopus. You do this using a couple of concrete blocks, weighing a ton each, attached to an inch-diameter steel cable.
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You end up anchoring on top of a giant Pacific octopus some 80 feet below, one that could be nesting on a bunch of eggs.
The cables and blocks were spread away from the octopus, so no problem there.
Still, the location of the protest didn’t sit too well with the local scuba-diving community.
It worried that as the tides came and went, the cable would wrap itself around stuff, and cause damage to a home for marine life.
What can you say, but:
“It caught us by surprise. We clearly didn’t have any intention of doing damage to a dive park. It was an honest mistake,” says John Sellers, of Vashon, who led the protest-barge campaign.
On Friday afternoon, the barge was towed a short distance north, away from its spot by Seacrest Park to just off Don Armeni Park.
That new anchoring spot was fine with various agencies involved, and the scuba divers.
“It’s a fairly desolate area. There’s no structures down there,” says Koos du Preez, president of the local branch of a diving nonprofit, Global Underwater Explorers, about the new location.
What makes the first anchor spot such prime diving isn’t any natural formation. It’s not big rocks or coral.
It’s old boats that were sunk off Alki. It’s timbers that were dumped. It’s pilings from broken-down piers.
“Marine life likes those structures, make them their home,” says du Preez.
Diving in the Pacific Northwest isn’t like in the Caribbean or Hawaii.
“You don’t get the tropical animals. It’s not colorful,” says du Preez. “It’s a different biodiversity we have here.”
That means catching a glimpse of that giant Pacific octopus, maybe as it nests on thousands of eggs.
Or catching sight of a wolf eel, which is not an eel, but a fish that some might describe as, well, rather ugly.
When you look at videos of diving off Alki, you see a lot of murkiness and featureless bottom.
In its foray into public waters, The People’s Platform protesters learned what commercial maritime types learn early on.
Lots of rules.
The Coast Guard came on board and found violations.
Those have been fixed, says a spokeswoman, after The People’s Platform got fire extinguishers, red lights, green lights and white navigational lights and “a sound-producing device” in case of fog.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources had divers inspect where the barge was originally anchored, and found “minimal damage” from the concrete and steel cable.
It says the barge can stay in its new location for up to 30 days without authorization if it’s not used for commercial purposes.
Sellers says his group wants to do the right thing and work with the divers on what to do with the concrete blocks and steel cable. For now, they have been left at the bottom off Seacrest Park.
Sellers says he’d like the protest barge to stay as long as the Shell oil rig is here.
It features solar panel and wind turbines, with a giant screen and a whole bunch of amplified speakers that promise to “light up the night with massive projections exposing Shell’s horrendous track record.”
It’ll certainly be a different kind of message for the warm-weather cruisers who like to drive up and down Alki.