Seismic Survey Opponents Say Research Could Harm Marine Life

By Lauren Wanko

They’re calling on Rutgers to stop. Clean Ocean Action, along with fishermen and others, launched a campaign to stop researchers from Rutgers and other universities from conducting a proposed seismic survey in the Atlantic Ocean 15 to 50 miles southeast of the Barnegat Inlet.

“If you’ve ever been near a jet takeoff, the sound blasted into the sea is orders of magnitudes louder then that,” said Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf.

The 34-day National Science Foundation funded study is designed to investigate sea-level rise and fall. Scientists plan to use the air guns to create 3D acoustic images of a 240-square-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean floor, which will be compared to previously collected core samples from beneath the sea floor.

“We are doing basic exploration of the ocean floor and what’s beneath it in a manner that has proven over the last five decades of ocean exploration as the primary means of understanding the history of the ocean basins,” said Greg Mountain of Rutgers.

The airguns will be blasted every five seconds for the duration of the study.

“These have been found to cause serious harm to marine life. Everything from harassment to death,” Zipf said.

“I’ve never once in all of my time either Jersey or anywhere else seen any injury, any detection of harm caused to any marine life by what we do,” said Mountain.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s Draft Incidental Harassment Authorization allows for the “take” or harassment of 26 marine mammal species, including six endangered species, but Zipf insists all marine life in the area could be at risk of everything from being bothered to killed.

Five independent protected species observers will accompany the researchers on the ship, says Mountain, and monitor and record marine animals behavior 24 hours throughout the study. If an animal is spotted deviating from its normal behavior, Mountain said, “We have to shut down until that animal has left the visible area.”

Commercial and recreational fishermen insist the seismic survey will devastate their industry, an industry still trying to recover from the storm.

“There’s not going to be any fish out there for 30 to 40 miles,” said Fishermen’s Co-op Spokesperson Capt. Lovgre.

Mountain says researchers are trying determine how the shoreline responds to sea level variations. But opponents insist there’s a different goal.

“Yeah it’s looking for oil drilling,” said Tom Fote.

Mountain says an independent agency already determined there’s no oil or gas in the area, and his team hasn’t discovered anything from prior work in the project area either.

“If you’re gonna do seismic testing, that material’s gonna be made public. The oil companies are gonna use it to try to justify that they should be able to go out and do drilling,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

A NOAA spokesperson tells NJTV News the agency’s conducting their reviews and no determination on the survey has been made at this time. Mountain hopes to begin as early as June 3.