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Earth Day celebration calls on Port of Seattle for a pollution-free Salish Sea

A celebration of Earth Day in honor of the Salish Sea took aim at the Port of Seattle Thursday. Representatives of several groups, including and the Center for Biological Diversity, called attention to the port’s impact on marine life.  

After setting up banners and mingling at a beachside pocket park on Seattle’s waterfront, the groups held a mock press conference, in which all of the speakers were dressed as dolphins. Among the issues they highlighted is the port’s plans to add a third cruise ship terminal in Pioneer Square.

Elizabeth Burton is with a new group called Seattle Cruise Control, set up in response to the project at Terminal 46. She says despite all the terrible things about the pandemic, there is one bright spot.

Cruise ships didn't sail for a year. So we've had a much cleaner ocean and less climate pollution. And so we feel like this is an excellent time to rethink. What are we doing in the midst of a climate crisis, building infrastructure that's going to continue fossil fuel use for decades in the future? That's not the right direction,” she said.

The port’s maritime director, Stephanie Jones Stebbins, responded in a statement saying it operates one of the greenest cruise operations in the world and has just outlined a strategy for phasing out maritime carbon emissions. It says demand for Alaska cruises remains strong.

“We at the Port of Seattle have an opportunity to work with cruise lines and our partners in Alaska to make sure the cruise to Alaska experience is sustainable and creates economic opportunity that truly benefits communities,” she said.

Another big topic highlighted at the Earth Day gathering was plans to deepen Seattle Harbor so megaships can come to call. Paul Cheoketen Wagner of the Saanich Nation and founder of the group Protectors of the Salish Sea said the dredging will stir up toxic sediments.

They know that some of the best things is just to leave the bottom alone and not disturb it. And they're going to disturb it. And it's going to harm our southern resident orcas,” he said. "It's going to harm the salmon populations. And, you know, and all it is, is one more stab to the many stabs that our salmon people are getting, which go right straight to our southern resident orcas.”  

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal lawsuit last month demanding better environmental analysis of the project’s impacts on endangered orcas. The Port of Seattle declined to comment on the litigation, but said in its statement that it is committed to creating quality jobs while protecting the environment and the whales, for example through a project to reduce underwater noise from large vessels, called Quiet Sound, for which it provided seed funding.  

“The Port has also been working to secure state and federal funding which we anticipate receiving this year, and funding language is included in this year’s state budget.  We urge people to contact their state representatives before Sunday to pass this legislation,” Jones Stebbins wrote.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to