For years, environmental advocates have argued that seismic testing in the Atlantic would harm or kill sea life. A recent Duke University study of whale and dolphin population density off the coast reveals “the scale of the threat,” environmentalists said last week.
Researchers with Duke University’s Geospatial Ecology Lab drew from 23 years of data to map whale and dolphin populations, and international environmental advocate Oceana overlaid the map with the proposed seismic “blast zone” to show, the press release states, “direct overlap of bottlenose dolphin density and direct overlap of endangered humpback, fin and sperm whale densities with the area currently proposed for seismic air gun blasting.”
But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which handles the offshore leases, conducts its own environmental research to “minimize impacts of human-generated sound on marine life,” its website states.
In March, the federal government announced it would not allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic from 2017-2022. To date, 115 East Coast municipalities have publicly opposed offshore drilling, seismic testing or both, Oceana’s press release states.
Initially, environmentalists believed when offshore drilling was temporarily outlawed, that would make seismic testing — the process of locating gas and oil underground — unnecessary.
“We assumed, at that time, due to the expense of seismic blasting … that would fade away too, but it didn’t turn out that way,” said Randy Sturgill, Oceana senior organizer.
The government did not close the Atlantic to seismic testing, and BOEM has approved two survey permits, although both permits were for surveys from airplanes.
Sturgill believes that in time, less harmful oil exploration technology will be developed, so companies should not rush to do seismic testing, especially when oil drilling is not currently permitted. He said he and his colleagues are prepared to fight against seismic testing “until those ships go in the water.”
He believes seismic testing would be harmful not only to sea life but to the economy of a maritime town like Wrightsville Beach. Harming fish populations could hurt the commercial fishing industry, he said, and harming dolphins and whales could impact tourism.
“The first whale that washes up on our shores and a child walks by, all of a sudden there are questions being asked: ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ People come to Wrightsville Beach for the natural beauty, that’s what we all love.”