On Monday morning, a woman named Fern MacDougal strung up a platform 30 feet in the air that is suspended by ropes tied to surrounding trees in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest.
MacDougal is now the ninth person in the last 85 days to stage tree-sits across the pipeline route in order to block its construction, according to Appalachians Against Pipelines. Her "aerial blockade," as the resistance group calls it, is located on Pocahontas Road, which Mountain Valley plans to use to reach a construction site.
Opponents of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, whose route cuts through one of the country's most iconic hiking trails, worry about its threat to the area's water supply and to wildlife habitat, as well as its potential harm to recreational lands and the health of surrounding Appalachian communities. Environmental groups also warn that the project sets a terrible precedent of building energy infrastructure through national forests.
"Cutting through delicate karst topography and 300 miles of contiguous forest and family farms seized by eminent domain, MVP threatens to damage the health and wellbeing of poor and oppressed communities along the pipeline route by threatening the air, soil and water," said MacDougal in a statement.
She added, "This pipeline will catalyze the growth and expansion of gas extraction across Appalachia, an industry which has already caused permanent harm to many communities. We are dedicated to resisting this reckless endangerment of the land and people as long as MVP continues to operate."
MacDougal was inspired to follow the activism of a fellow tree-sitter named "Nutty," who has protested from her monopod a few miles up Pocahontas road since March 28, and by David Buckel, a civil rights lawyer who died last month after setting himself on fire to protest environmental destruction.
Posters at MacDougal's site declare, "WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?" and "STILL HERE."
Appalachians Against Pipelines
In a Facebook update after her first day, MacDougal said the Forest Service was "really angry when they saw that I was here."
Tree-sits have popped up in at least five locations along the pipeline route. The oldest site is still occupied by a man named "Deckhard," who has been stationed at his platform on the West Virginia side of Peters Mountain since Feb. 26.
Mountain Valley has sued several hundred landowners in West Virginia and Virginia to invoke eminent domain to allow it to cut trees and run the pipeline through their properties. One such landowner, Red Terry, a 61 year woman, and her daughter "Minor," camped for more than a month in a treehouse on their own land before court-ordered fines and the threat of forced removal brought them down, Rolling Stone reported.
According to the Independent, Mountain Valley has urged judges to remove some of the tree sitters but has been unsuccessful. The Forest Service also issued a "closure order" within 200 feet of the proposed pipeline route, which they say is to protect the public from any construction hazards.
However, pipeline opponents say the order has prevented re-supplies of food and water to the tree-sitters. Attempts to bring supplies to the sitters has already led at least three arrests, Outside Online reported.
Rolling Stone reported that two Charlottesville physicians who sought to perform a wellness check on Nutty were denied access near her platform.
Mountain Valley has said that the pipeline will be in operation by the end of this year. However, Appalachians Against Pipelines, which is raising funds to stop the project, said the presence of tree-sitters has already caused a significant delay in construction for more than 50 days.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
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The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
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Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.