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Local conservationists are concerned about the threats seismic survey might be posing to the ocean.
SOUTH Coast conservationists were dismayed to learn the KwaZulu-Natal coast had recorded the highest ever number of whale strandings last year and the first known incident of a mass stranding.
They wonder if this alarming development could have had something to do with recent seismic surveys in this area.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the seismic surveys were responsible for the high number of strandings but the coincidence cannot be ignored,” said a KZN Stranding Network spokesman.
She pointed out that the Schlumberger Seismic Survey was granted permission to continue its survey activities into the annual whale migration period last year. This was not in the spirit of marine conservation or protection, she said.
“They were granted permission because, in 2014, sections 38 and 39 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act were repealed, thus creating a gap in the law which allows for a reconnaissance permit to be obtained without any environmental authorisation,” she explained.
The repeal of this legislation has effectively taken away the Department of Environmental Affairs’s preventative power over environmental impacts of mining and gives the oil and gas industry the right to police and monitor itself.
Previously, any mining activity with a potential threat to the environment would have required an environmental impact study or environmental management plan to be done, followed by approval from Environmental Affairs.
Of concern to the KZN Stranding Network was the fact that Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) was now applying for a reconnaissance permit for an area which extended from Mossel Bay into KZN, the spokesman said.
The initial permit application had extended from Richards Bay to Mossel Bay but had now been revised and included a small southern section of KwaZulu-Natal, too. The environmental management plan for this could be downloaded at http://slrconsulting.com/za/slr-documents/pgs-speculative-2d-3d-surveys. Comment period for this ended on June 30.
The spokesman urged network members to register as interested and affected parties and to raise their concerns regarding the proposed permit application. They could also support the Coastwatch KZN initiative by signing its petition at https://www.change.org/p/insist-the-dea-challenges-seismic-surveying-of-our-coastline.
As well as drawing up the petition, Coastwatch KZN has appealed to to the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Boma Edna Molewa, to object to the PGS seismic survey application until the repeal of Section 38 and 39 of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act had been legally challenged in court.
Coastwatch pointed out to Minister Molewa that a marine seismic survey along the KwaZulu Natal coast, hauling a 48 air-gun array (high intensity sound cannons), had been extended into the whale migration season last year.
This had happened despite suggested mitigation measures of avoiding the turtle hatching season, humpback whale migration and the sardine run.
“The year 2016 recorded the highest number of whale strandings in the history of the East Coast of South Africa,” she said.
PGS was now applying for a reconnaissance permit for an area 284 881 square kilometres in extent, from Mossel Bay to Richards Bay, 15km from shore, covering many environmentally sensitive areas and biologically important migration routes. It would also pose a risk to many species of whale and dolphin, fish and turtle, as well as to tourism and fisheries.
The objection also pointed out that the seismic surveys used extremely loud blasts, able to penetrate deep into the sea floor for detecting oil deposits, every 10 seconds for 24 hours a day, for months at a time over large areas.
Scientists had proved that seismic blasts could interrupt the communication, reproduction, navigation and eating habits essential to the survival of marine life, including whales, dolphins, turtles, fish and even plankton.
These detonations also damaged eggs and larvae and forced fish and other marine species temporarily to migrate away from the affected area.