Guest post by Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans.
Imagine you navigate your world through sound. You maneuver through your surroundings, locate food and communicate with others through using your hearing alone. Now think about trying to go about your daily life with dynamite-like blasts louder than standing near a jet plane going off every 10 seconds, for 24 hours, for days to weeks on end in your living room. Now imagine standing near something 100,000 times louder than a jet plane.
This will soon be a reality for millions of marine animals that inhabit the waters of the Atlantic off the East Coast of the United States. Last month, the federal government released a final proposal to allow the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic Ocean. These airguns send incredibly intense blasts of compressed air (one of the loudest humans have produced) into the seabed to find oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor.
The area planned to be blasted stretches from Delaware to Florida, encompassing a swath of ocean twice the size of California and is home to a diverse array of marine mammals, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. After being hunted to the brink of extinction by 18th and 19th century whalers, the animals are still slowly recovering their numbers, with only approximately 500 currently left in the world. These whales migrate between the warm waters of North Florida and Georgia to the cooler areas of the Northeast; a route directly in the path of the planned seismic blasting.
In fact, the government itself estimates that more than 138,000 marine mammals will be injured, if not possibly killed, by these blasts. These numbers don’t even include the millions of other animals likely to be disturbed, including both migratory and resident fish species. More than 100 scientists have called on the government to include the best available science to protect marine mammals, such as acoustic guidelines. These guidelines are 15 years in the making and aim to provide a better understanding of how marine mammals are impacted by manmade sound as well as demonstrate the measures that are needed to protect them.
If seismic airgun blasting is allowed in the Atlantic, it will not only jeopardize wildlife, but commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism and coastal recreation as well. More than 730,000 jobs are at risk in the blast zone alone. In the government’s rush to finalize this proposal, the Obama administration is disregarding the combined impacts that these repeated dynamite-like blasts will have on critical behaviors like mating, feeding, breathing, communicating and navigating for thousands of marine animals.
Seismic airgun blasting is the first step towards offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. We all saw the horrific effects of the BP oil disaster, and we could see similar tolls before the drilling even begins.
The government needs to move away from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling and instead invest in cleaner, renewable energy sources. Offshore wind in the Atlantic has the potential to provide three times as many jobs and generate 30 percent more electricity than oil and gas in the same area.
Simply put, turning the Atlantic into a blast zone is not the way to fulfill our energy needs.
To learn more about the threats of seismic airgun blasting, visit Oceana.