Oceana Holds Forum on Risks of Seismic Airgun Activity

Written by on September 30, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law

Editor’s Note — Oceana is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. It was founded in 2001 and is now the largest international organization focused entirely on marine conservation. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Oceana.

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By Rebecca Marques, Florida Campaign Organizer at Oceana

Imagine dynamite-like blasts exploding right outside your house every ten seconds, for days to weeks on end. These intense noises would probably cause you to move away to a different area, or would at least cause extreme disruptions to your daily routine. This nightmarish scenario might become a reality for marine animals off Miami’s coast, however, if the U.S. Department of the Interior approves a proposal to allow seismic airguns to be blasted in the Atlantic Ocean from the Delaware Bay to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, an area twice the size of California.

Bottlenose dolphin.

Bottlenose dolphin. Photo credit: NOAA.

The use of seismic airguns is a method many companies use to search for oil and gas deposits deep beneath the ocean floor. Towed behind ships that trace grids along the floor, seismic airguns shoot compact blasts of air to track any reflected sounds. However, these 190 decibel blasts (250 dB in water) are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, and they can occur every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for days to weeks on end. As one may imagine, the airguns are extremely disruptive to any marine life in the blast zone, causing temporary and permanent deafness, beach strandings and even death. Seismic airguns will create a “war zone” for the marine animals off Miami’s coast. In fact, the government has conceded that seismic activity in the Atlantic could harm and possibly kill 138,500 dolphins and whales off the East Coast.

In April, Oceana released a report outlining the threats seismic airguns pose to marine life and coastal economies along the East Coast. In addition to conservation impacts, seismic airguns will jeopardize commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as disrupt coastal recreation and tourism. Miami’s successful tourism industry currently provides many job opportunities in the leisure and hospitality businesses. If seismic activity disrupts Miami’s tourism, as well as its fishing industries, the city’s economy could experience a plunge in employment rates. Indeed, Oceana estimates that seismic airgun activity in the Atlantic could put more than 730,000 jobs at risk in the blast zone alone.

Unfortunately, these numbers may soon go even higher. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning to release new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals later this year, which will likely increase the area of ocean that is affected by the blasts, as well as the number of animals that are harmed by the intense noises. If the government truly wants to act responsibly, they should wait until in the best, most up-to-date science is available before they make a decision that could irreparably harm coastal livelihoods and injure or kill thousands of animals.

This month, Oceana delivered 100,000 petitions to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) calling on the U.S. government to stop using seismic airguns in the Atlantic before they start. Also, about 50 bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 13 of which are from Florida, have joined Oceana in their request by sending letters to the President calling for a halt to the proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic.

Now is the time when the public should be getting more involved in opposing the use of these dangerous seismic airguns. Oceana, along with partner organizations, will be holding 10 public forums this September and October, along the East Coast from New Jersey to Florida. The goal of the events is to raise public awareness about the threats of proposed seismic testing on the East Coast and urge political outreach to oppose it.

On Thursday, October 3, Oceana will hold a public forum at the University of Miami. The two-hour event will begin at 6 PM with a panel discussion with Matt Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist from Oceana, Scott Stripling, chair of Surfrider’s Miami chapter, Nicholas Ward, Professor of Economics at Miami Dade, and Tanya Tweeton of the Sierra Club South East Florida Sierra Marine and Water Quality Team. Emily Tripp, the editor of Marine Science Today, will moderate the panel. The event will conclude with a robust question and answer session, which will allow the audience members to participate in the event by asking questions of the panelists.

For questions regarding the event, please contact the regional organizer Rebecca Marques at rmarques@oceana.org or 305-741-9416. For any media inquiries, please contact Ben Hayman at bhayman@oceana.org or 207-482-9468.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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