"sea swallow'd": How lessons from the twelfth century apply to the modern-day Pebble Mine

Alaskanist Stories has just released “sea swallow’d,” a gem of a film by flyfisher Ryan Peterson that presents the Stop Pebble campaign in an elegantly simple but incredibly powerful light.


sea-swallow'd from ryan peterson on Vimeo.

Its spare cinematography confronts the viewer with the faces—diverse in gender, ethnicity, and age—of those who rely on the Bristol Bay watershed and the salmon fisheries it supports. Its haunting soundtrack—a thumping heartbeat that morphs into Natives’ drumbeats and back again—inextricably links Alaskans’ lifeblood and cultural inheritance with the salmon spawning cycle. The film elicits a visceral reaction: Pebble Mine poses a universal, human threat.

Peterson uses a twelfth-century play to contextualize the modern-day threat of large scale open-pit mining. He quotes Shakespeare:

 “We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again,

(And by that destiny) to perform an act

Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come,

In yours and my discharge.”

The Tempest, (II, i)

If EPA does not stop the Pebble Mine, it will have cast the die and written our future. History shows us that mines do leak—and given the chance, Pebble Mine will too. By the Pebble Partnership’s own projections, the mine will generate over 10 billion tons of toxic waste.

We can apply another aphorism from the Bard to the Pebble Mine: “all that glisters is not gold” (The Merchant of Venice [II,vii]). While the Pebble Partnership promises to employ 1,000 people for 20-25 years, the centuries-old renewable salmon fisheries create 14,000 jobs and will do so in perpetuity. While the Pebble Partnership promises to excavate a total of $500 billion worth of copper and gold over the mine’s lifetime (the profits of which will be siphoned to mine shareholders), the salmon fisheries are collectively valued at over $1.5 billion annually, accounts for half the world’s sockeye salmon supply, and sustains an entire way of life.

No wonder over 80% of Bristol Bay residents and commercial fishermen oppose the Pebble Mine—they see through Pebble Partnership’s glittering (but short-sighted) promise of gold.

The EPA is accepting public comments on its Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment through May 31. Please, urge the Agency to Stop the Pebble Mine—because “what [is] to come/[is] in yours and my discharge.”


 Written with Marine Mammal Program Assistant Lauren Packard

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