SEATTLE — Hundreds of activists decked out in neoprene wetsuits and life jackets took to the waters of Elliott Bay on Saturday in kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and other vessels to send the message that Royal Dutch Shell should cancel its plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean.
The "Paddle in Seattle" — a daylong, family friendly festival in a West Seattle park and an on-the-water protest by "Shell No" kayaktivists — was held only blocks from where Shell's Polar Pioneer drilling rig is docked at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5. The brightly colored boats lined the grass as paddlers loaded gear while lights on the towering rig twinkled in the background.
Once out on the water, kayakers gathered in formation and hoisted signs and banners that read: "Climate Justice," ''Oil-Free Future," ''Shell No, Seattle Draws The Line," and "We can't burn all the oil on the planet and still live on it." Many had posters or red scarfs that had the Shell logo with crossed kayak paddles underneath -- resembling the skull-and-crossbones image.
Later in the afternoon, they paddled over to the base of the towering Polar Pioneer drilling rig and sang songs, chanted and displayed banners.
Eric Day, with the Swinomish Indian Tribe, was one of many Native American paddlers who brought their canoes to the event. Drilling in the Arctic would hurt those who live off the land, he said.
"This is our livelihood. We need to protect it for the crabbers, for the fishermen," Day said. "We need to protect it for our children."
Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said there are a long list of reasons why drilling in the Arctic is a bad idea. The focus should be on renewable energy in this time of climate change, not dirty fuels, she said.
"Why would we invest in an energy source that scientists say is leading us to catastrophe?" Leonard said. Many also fear that an oil spill in such a delicate and remote region would be a disaster on many levels.
Greg Huyler, a 51-year-old scuba diver from Yakima, Washington, stood on the sidewalk and shook his head in opposition to the event.
"It's a bunch of crap," he said. "The problem is, all of these kayaks are petroleum products, and they're going to gripe about drilling for oil. And 90 percent of them drove here in cars that use petroleum products."
India Briggs, a 14-year-old from Cle Elum, Washington, said she and her parents drove 2 hours to make their voices heard.
"I'm happy people want to join together to take a stand on climate change," she said. He father, Jim Briggs, added that drilling in the Arctic would be deeply disrespectful to the Inuit peoples who live in that region.
Alli Harvey, Alaska representative for the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign, said: "Science is as clear as day when it comes to drilling in the Arctic: The only safe place for these dirty fuels is in the ground."
At the center of the paddle protest was the "People's Platform," a 4,000-square-foot barge powered by renewable energy, said Jonathon Berman with the Sierra Club. The platform was used as a stage for speakers, a band and a tall screen that showed images of people expressing their opposition to Shell's plans.
Just a quarter-mile away from the Seacrest Marine Park sits the 400-foot long, 300-foot tall Polar Pioneer, the first of two oil-drilling rigs that Royal Dutch Shell plans to use this summer as it explores for oil off Alaska's northern coast. The second rig, the Noble Discoverer, arrived at the Port of Everett last week and is slated join the Polar Pioneer at the Port of Seattle's Terminal 5 at a later date. Everett port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said on Friday that they expect the Noble Discoverer to be there for two to three weeks.
The Arctic holds about 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its oil, according to Shell's website.
"This amounts to around 400 billion barrels of oil equivalent, 10 times the total oil and gas produced in the North Sea to date," Shell's site says. "Developing Arctic resources could be essential to securing energy supplies for the future, but it will mean balancing economic, environmental and social challenges."
The activists see it differently, however.
The protesters say it's critical that they take a stand "against dirty fossil fuel projects." They want to put themselves on the front lines in the battle for Arctic oil.
Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle