Marine mammals at risk off the East Coast
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — The fossil fuel industry’s use of seismic airgun testing to search for as-yet untapped offshore oil deposits could prove damaging to ocean species — especially marine mammals that depend on acoustic information.
Unless federal agencies use the best available science to design effective avoidance and mitigation strategies, thousands of dolphins and whales could be affected, including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, with a dwindling population of only 500 individuals.
In a letter to President Obama, more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists urged federal regulators to “use the best available science before permitting seismic surveys for offshore oil and gas in the mid- and south Atlantic.”
Specifically, the scientists said the administration should wait for an updated set of scientific guidelines on acoustic impacts before completing a plan to permit seismic airgun testing off the East Coast, from Delaware down to Florida.
“It is essential to incorporate these guidelines into this PEIS in order to accurately estimate auditory injuries and disturbances to marine mammals from proposed seismic surveys, so that this important information can guide the most appropriate mitigation measures,” the scientists wrote.
Seismic airguns are towed behind ships and shoot extremely loud and repeated blasts of sound to search for buried oil and gas in the Earth’s crust. The dynamite-like blasts occur every ten seconds, for days to weeks at a time.
Preliminary studies show that the testing off the East Coast could injure up to 138,500 marine mammals. New acoustic data from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program recently found that right whales off the Virginia coast are in the path of proposed seismic airgun use.
“If the PEIS moves forward without the newly established acoustic guidelines it will be scientifically deficient and quickly outdated. It will fail to accurately assess the true scope of marine mammal impacts from proposed seismic surveys, which is a primary purpose of the PEIS,” the scientists wrote.
“We implore you to take this opportunity to integrate NMFS’ new Marine Mammal Acoustic Guidelines into the PEIS for proposed seismic survey activity in the mid- and south Atlantic.”
Conservation advocates have raising public awareness about an activity that happens far away from people, but still could have damaging environmental effects. Last September, Oceana rallied public support with a petition delivered to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as approximately 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns last year.
For more information about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airguns, including an infographic and animation about how they work, please visit www.oceana.org/seismic.