In February 2014, the government issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on seismic activity in an area offshore the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Florida. This document predicts that if seismic blasting happens in the Atlantic Ocean, over 138,000 whales and dolphins could be injured or killed. Oceana and others have been vocal in opposing this incredibly dangerous activity, and the subsequent offshore drilling that comes after seismic airgun blasting.
In response, Oceana submitted individual and group comments to address the major gaps in the EIS. The individual comments hit hard on the fact that the government did not use the best available science when creating their proposed actions, and if they had, the safety measures for marine animals would have been more robust. For starters, the EIS does not take into account a recent Cornell University Study, funded by Oceana and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which shows that the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale is found much further offshore than previously thought. Had the government taken this new and highly influential information into account, it should have provided more protections for the right whale.
The government also did not wait to incorporate new acoustic guidelines, set to come out in late 2014 or early 2015, that have been in the making for over 15 years. These guidelines describe in great detail, the impacts that underwater noise can have on marine mammal hearing, behavior, and ultimately their survival. Seismic airgun blasting is all about sound, making the latest science on how sound affects marine mammals imperative to formulating adequate guidelines.
Additionally, it is important ensure that stock assessments are up to date for species that live in the Atlantic so that the government and public alike know about the status of marine mammals. This way, any adverse effects that are correlated to population declines can be compared to previous population levels. This remains so important given circumstances such as the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in the mid-Atlantic where large numbers of bottlenose dolphins are dying. However, the government has fallen behind the schedule of updates stock assessments, which is required by law.
Finally, the EIS glossed over potential effects on fish stocks and associated commercial fishing impacts. Studies of fishing and seismic testing have found reductions in catch of up to 70%, as well as death of larval fish. Decreased catch and mortality of young fish are bound to have impacts on coastal communities that depend on commercial fishing for their livelihoods.
Along with submitting comments on the EIS, Oceana’s grassroots efforts have been instrumental in generating a groundswell of opposition from coastal communities. Well over 150 local, state and national elected officials, including over 50 members of Congress, have taken a public stance against seismic airgun use, including 14 coastal municipalities that passed resolutions opposing or voicing concern with the process. Additionally, more than 160 environmental and animal welfare groups endorsed a letter urging the President to reject the proposal for seismic blasting in the Atlantic. For more information about Oceana’s grassroots efforts, check out our map on local opposition to seismic.
Written with Sara Young, Oceana Marine Scientist