Ocean Protection, Updates, Not the answer
June 19 2017

Seismic Blasting Threatens the Atlantic: Submit Your Comments Today

by Katie Day

The Trump administration has opened a public comment period on proposed seismic blasting off the Atlantic coast. Please submit your comments by July 21st to help protect marine wildlife and stop the expansion of offshore oil drilling! 

The federal government has re-opened the review process to permit harmful seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. These permits would allow offshore oil and gas developers to knowingly harm marine mammals and other wildlife when exploring for underground oil and gas reserves by providing “incidental harassment authorizations” to override protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The public comment period for the five permit applications will be open until July 21st.

Seismic airgun surveys involve the use of high intensity acoustic blasts emitted as frequently as every 10 seconds from ships towards the ocean floor. The blasts must be loud enough to reach the ocean floor and return back to the ship’s receivers, in order to determine the presence of underground oil and gas reserves. These blasts create a noise 100 times louder than ambient background noise levels, and can be heard up to 4,000 km away, severely impacting marine animals that rely on sonar for communication and navigation.

Respected scientists from top institutions including Duke University, Cornell University, and Wildlife Conservation Society issued a joint statement stressing their concerns over the irreversible impacts that would occur to sensitive marine wildlife. The strongest concern was over endangered Northern Right Whales, since proposed surveys would occur in known migration areas. These intense blasts have also been known to cause mother-calf pairs of whales to be separated, increase the instance of whale and dolphin strandings, kill fish eggs, displace fish populations, and reduce the ability of marine life to locate prey, mate, spawn, and migrate in their habitats.

The Surfrider Foundation, along with coastal communities, businesses, fishermen, and recreationalists have actively opposed seismic blasting in the Atlantic since federal scoping began in 2010. Not only would seismic airgun blasting cause catastrophic impacts to the marine ecosystem, including irreparable injury to tens of thousands of whales and dolphins, it would also set the stage for offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast, a dirty and dangerous practice that threatens the health of our oceans and coastal communities. 

In 2016, the Obama Administration made the wise decision to protect the Atlantic coast from seismic blasting and offshore drilling based on extensive scientific review and millions of comments from citizens. Now, Surfrider is committed to extending these protections by encouraging the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny incidental take authorizations for seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic. To succeed we need your help, so please join us in submitting comments to protect the Atlantic coast!

You can help us protect marine wildlife in the Atlantic from Seismic Surveys!

1) Contact your representatives in Congress to ask them to help protect the Atlantic from seismic blasting: take action.

2) Submit comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service specifically opposing proposed authorizations. Personalized comments carry more weight (how will these surveys affect your life and what you care about?). 

Send your email to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, at ITP.Laws@noaa.gov. See the Federal Register notice here. For the strongest impact, be sure to provide scientifically supported evidence regarding potential impacts to marine wildlife, including:

  • The use of multiple airguns used simultaneously in each seismic array causes greater noise than each airgun individually, exacerbating adverse impacts associated with lower intensity seismic airguns (NOAA. 2017. “Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean”).
  • Adverse impacts associated with seismic airguns include disrupted communication between fin whales (International Whaling Commission. 2007. Report of the scientific committee. Annex K. Report of the Standing Working Group on environmental concerns. J. Cetacean Res. Manag. 9 (Suppl.): 227–296), which is essential for whales to find each other and reproduce, and thus has the ability to reduce recruitment rates (Croll, D.A., Clark, C.W., Acevedo, A., Tershy, B., Flores, S., Gedamke, J., and Urban, J. 2002. Only male fin whales sing loud songs. Nature (London), 417: 809).
  • Approval of several seismic surveys simultaneously will result in additional migrational impacts and habitat fragmentation, increasing the likelihood of adverse effects to marine mammals, reducing survival and recruitment rates.
  • Marine mammals considered adversely affected by seismic airguns located in the proposed area include 16 whale species (5 of which are endangered), 17 dolphin species, and the harbor porpoise (NOAA. 2017. “Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Geophysical Surveys in the Atlantic Ocean”).
  • Only an estimated 465 North Atlantic Right Whales are left in the western North Atlantic, making them critically endangered (NOAA Fisheries. 2016. “North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis)”).