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Greenpeace Discovers Sensitive Coral at Shell's Arctic Drill Site

Common Dreams staff

John Hocevar presents a soft coral species taken from the seafloor of the Chukchi Sea near a proposed Shell drill site. To date, no form of corals are know to exist in the area. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is on an Arctic expedition to study unexplored ocean habitats threatened by offshore oil drilling, as well as industrial fishing fleets. (Photo byJiri Rezac / Greenpeace© Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace / Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace)

Exploration vessels deployed by Greenpeace have discovered several coral species thriving on the ocean floor right where Shell is set to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea. 

Environmental groups have being fighting hard to prevent the oil company from starting its drilling operation, saying that the threat to the fragile arctic ecosystem is imperiled by the rush for offshore oil deposits.

“Discovering abundant corals in the Arctic waters right where Shell plans to drill this summer shows just how little is known about this fragile and unique region. Melting sea ice is not an invitation for offshore drilling in the Arctic, it’s a warning that this pristine environment should be protected and dedicated to science,” said John Hocevar, marine biologist and Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA.
Although Shell told the Washington Post that the company knew about corals at the Chukchi drill site, the environmental impact statement for its drilling program does not mention them. Deep sea corals provide critical habitat for fish and other marine life, and have been prioritized for protection by the United Nations and the US government. Corals are very long-lived, slow growing creatures that are highly vulnerable to disturbance. 
“Why doesn't the environmental impact statement for Shell's Chukchi drilling program adequately discuss Arctic corals at the proposed drilling location? What else has the public not been told about the environment of the proposed drill sites?” said Rick Steiner, retired University of Alaska professor of conservation biology.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is in the Arctic with a Waitt Institute submarine to study the marine habitats threatened by Shell’s planned drilling program. The expedition is part of the environmental organization's "Save the Arctic" campaign, in which over 1 million people have joined together to call for a global sanctuary in the high Arctic, and a ban on offshore drilling and unsustainable fishing in Arctic waters.

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