Oceana to meet in Juneau

Environmental activists plan to visit Mendenhall River, local icefield

Posted: Monday, September 05, 2005

A group of individuals who have made the critical calls on major environmental initiatives - such as deep-sea coral protection in the Aleutians - is visiting Juneau next week.

The 11-member board of Oceana, an international ocean conservation group formed in 2001, will have its first Alaska meeting in Juneau on Wednesday.

Its members - including ocean activist and Hollywood actor Ted Danson, and former president of Columbia César Gaviria, as well as prominent business people and marine scientists - plan to stay through the weekend.

They will explore the Mendenhall River by raft, fly over the Juneau Icefield and go whale watching, said Susan Murray, associate director for Oceana's Pacific regional office in Juneau.

"These are the people who had faith in us all along," Murray said.

Oceana and its board have taken the North Pacific trawling industry, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska region head-on in recent years.

Oceana was heavily involved with a federal lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding endangered Steller sea lions. The court ruled in 2002 that the Fisheries Service had not adequately taken into account the impact of fishing on the sea lions.

Also, when massive beds of deep-sea corals and sponges were discovered on the Aleutian sea floor, Oceana took the stand that trawling should be banned in those areas. The sites are believed to provide essential habitat for fish.

Oceana mounted a national campaign to preserve the deep-sea corals, prompting many thousands of public comments to the North Pacivic council from the Lower 48.

The fishing industry, the North Pacific council and Oceana ended up bartering an agreement to protect hundreds of thousands of square miles of coral habitat in the Aleutians earlier this year.

But Oceana aroused the ire of the groundfish industry in the North Pacific. The industry has complained that Oceana's campaigns in the region have relied heavily on dollars raised in the Lower 48.

Oceana's Pacific director based in Juneau, Jim Ayers, a chief of staff for former Gov. Tony Knowles, has also come under personal attack.

During Gov. Murkowski's gubernatorial campaign, a pro-Murkowski campaign ad tagged Ayers as an "enemy of the state."

Oceana has a $10 million budget and about 60 staff members worldwide.

When it was founded, its organizers decided to make it a "campaign-focused" organization, Murray said.

"We go after very specific things and that has led to successes," she said.

So how did folks like Ted Danson get involved?

As it turns out, Danson formed an ocean activist group, called American Oceans Campaign, after he became disgusted by beach pollution, Murray said.

Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign in 2002.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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