Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Will Trump’s lust for oil kill Flipper?

The shattering blasts come every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. The Trump Administration wants to allow the use of seismic airgun blasting to map the ocean floor from Florida to Delaware in the search for oil and gas, and recent testimony by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at House Natural Resources Committee has made it clear that seismic testing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico will follow next. Giant air horns, so loud they would shatter the human ear, generate blasts of up to 250 decibels reaching miles into the sea.

Experts say the blasts impair hearing in marine mammals responsible for their navigation, communication, eating, and mating and would injure or kill 138,000 dolphins and whales. It would pose risks to nesting female and young sea turtles, whose behavior is altered by low-frequency seismic sounds. It would also decimate fisheries along our coast and kill off zooplankton, the foundation of aquatic life, for 135,000 square miles.

The U.S. Department of Interior’s very own studies estimate airgun blasting will cause 13.5 million instances of harm to Atlantic marine mammals, including the right whale, which makes its breeding ground off the coast of Florida.

There is evidence to support this. In Madagascar and Peru, mass beachings took place around the time of airgun testing. In 2008 in Madagascar, dozens of whales washed up on shore.  In 2012 in Peru, 900 dolphins and porpoises washed ashore. Necropsies showed blood coming from ears and fractures of ear bones.

Airgun blasting endangers more than whales and fish themselves. It kills off what they eat. A study released last week by the journal Nature showed the blasts would destroy the majority of zooplankton species, the base of the food chain, within about 1.5-miles of each medium-sized airgun, impacting 135,000 square miles next year alone. Zooplankton provide food for fish and whales.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, has publicly opposed Trump’s plan for Atlantic airgun blasting to open up offshore drilling.

In Florida, nearly 40 cities and counties have already passed resolutions from cities including Jacksonville Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Pensacola and counties including Flagler, St. Johns, Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

And it’s not just local governments. Even the State of Florida in 2015 recommended delaying airgun permits due to insufficient data on the impact on natural resources.

There is a bi-partisan consensus that tourism and fisheries are the heart and soul of our coastal economy. Clean water and beaches and healthy marine life are not compatible with airgun blasting or oil and gas extraction.

Florida and Atlantic coast officials have seen what has happened to the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. They’ve seen the oil storage containers, pipelines and transportation systems. They know the physical blight of offshore rigs and their coastal infrastructure are only surpassed by the inevitable spills, explosions and disasters to follow. They don’t want a BP disaster on the Atlantic coast.

In addition to the direct impact of airgun testing and offshore oil and gas, once burned these fuels add to greenhouse gases leading to increasing rates of sea level rise. However you look at it, Florida loses.

Airgun testing is unleashing a frenzy of oil wildcatters with an ocean of marine mammals as collateral damage. Floridians need to coalesce around this issue. We need to talk about it with our friends. Post it on Facebook. Call our representatives, locally and in Congress. Join protests. Unite with business owners. Raise a ruckus.

The good news is that there is no need for airgun blasting or offshore oil drilling. The fastest growing form of energy is not oil or gas, but renewables like solar and wind. We have the ability to produce energy without threatening our coasts.

Frank Jackalone is the Florida Chapter Director of the Sierra Club.

--------------------------------------

What can you do to stop this tragedy? 

E-mail comments (limited to seismic airgun testing’s impact on marine life and coastal communities) to: 
itp.laws@noaa.gov by the July 21 deadline.

---------------------------------

Further reading: 

The Bipartisan Fight for Quieter Oceans, The Atlantic, July 5, 2017