In the coming months, the Obama Administration will make a decision that will profoundly impact the health of the Atlantic Ocean. It will decide whether to proceed with seismic survey off the Eastern coastline to map oil and gas resources.
The planned surveys will utilize high-decibel sound blasts—i.e., underwater explosions—that will saturate the marine environment with noise pollution. Vessels towing airguns will traverse large swaths of ocean, releasing acoustic blasts every ten seconds for weeks or months on end. This seismic exploration will occur over thousands of square miles and cause devastating impacts to marine wildlife and the health of the ecosystem.
According to the Department of Interior’s own estimates, seismic exploration in the Atlantic will injure up to 130,000 marine mammals over the next eight years, including the critically endangered Right Whale and the bottlenose dolphin. The noise from surveys will also disrupt millions of other mammals and sea turtles by interfering with mating, communication, and migration activities. Finally, seismic surveys will displace and cause impacts—such as temporary hearing loss—to a broad range of fish and invertebrate populations.
Yet, the negative effects of seismic exploration will not be limited to just the ecological realm. Communities on the Atlantic coast depend on a healthy ocean to support industries such as recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing. The degradation to the marine ecosystem caused by seismic exploration will put these industries—and the billions of dollars they contribute to the region’s economy—at risk. Not surprisingly, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council has formally opposed the proposed surveys, and many other industry groups and businesses have also expressed concerns.
The biggest impacts of all, however, will occur after seismic exploration is completed. The end game of mapping oil and gas resources is clear: The expansion of offshore drilling into the Atlantic Ocean. Given the importance of a healthy ocean to our coastal economies, it’s foolhardy to allow oil and gas development off the Atlantic coast. Offshore drilling is inherently polluting and has the potential to cause major damage to the entire ecosystem through a major spill.
In response to these concerns, the Surfrider Foundation has launched a petition to Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, asking the Department to cancel plans to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean. Please join me in signing the petition!
In addition, on May 18 thousands of citizens will participate in Hands Across the Sand events to voice their opposition to new offshore drilling. At dozens of events on the East Coast, activists will form “human lines in the sand” to protect the Atlantic from proposed seismic exploration.
While the political pressure to expand offshore drilling is very real, let’s hope that the Obama Administration will change course and decide not to map potential oil and gas resources off the Atlantic coast. The dubious benefits of seismic surveys are not worth the risk to the marine environment and our coastal economies.
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Pete Stauffer is Ocean Program Manager at Surfrider Foundation, an organization that works to protect our world's oceans, waves, and beaches.