There are five Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that fall within the proposed exploration site of the project. The EMP states that no seismic activity will take place in the MPAs, nor within a 2km buffer zone around these MPAs.
WAPFSA members strongly believe that insufficient research has been undertaken to fully understand and prepare for the negative effects of the seismic activity on the ecosystems in the area and on the aquatic life within them. What scientific study has been carried out in order to suggest that a 2km zone will offer sufficient protection from the seismic activity? A 2km buffer zone cannot offer protection against the acoustic waves which travel tens to hundreds of kilometres from the blast site.
Marine mammals are extremely dependent on sound in order to communicate and navigate. It is common knowledge that cetaceans such as whales and dolphins are sensitive to seismic testing and have been linked to beaching or stranding.
The EMP reports that the seismic exploration blasting will begin slowly, increasing gradually, in an attempt to allow animals in the area to move away. The proposed blasting will be active continuously throughout the survey period of four to five months.
Smaller animals who are unable to move out of the area will be subjected to non-stop blasting, which can have life threatening, detrimental effects on them. The larger animals who may move from the area due to the blasting will be forced to leave their respective ecosystems and protected areas, putting them at unnecessary risk.
Intense noise, from seismic blasting, has been shown to cause body malformations and delay of development in marine larvae, as well as eliciting endocrinological stress in many fish. Potential biological effects of air seismic gun noise includes physical/physiological effects, behavioral disruption, and indirect effects associated with altered prey availability. Physical/physiological effects could include hearing threshold shifts and auditory damage and masking of communication signals ( e.g. cetaceans) as well as non-auditory disruption, (e.g. feeding decline) and can be directly caused by sound exposure or the result of behavioral changes (including habitat displacement) in response to sounds, (e.g. recent observations suggesting that exposure to loud noise may result in decompression sickness).
There is insufficient research-based evidence to confirm the impacts of the seismic activity, negative or other, on fish who are confined to fish farms in the Algoa Bay area.
Marine species who are scared away from the MPAs due to the seismic activity will leave said MPAs and enter unprotected waters where they risk being fished, hunted and poached. The very purpose of the MPAs will then be made null and void by the impacts of the seismic exploration.
Migration routes of numerous species, which have been passed down and utilised through generations will be altered due to the seismic activity. The migration patterns of about 130 000 whales from East Africa towards the West Coast where they breed and nurse their young is directly intercepted by the exploration area.
WAPFSA members feel that not enough research has been conducted on the knock-on effects of the disturbance of the migration routes. These include the important migration routes of whales and the endangered loggerhead turtle.
While mitigation measures included in the management plan is to attempt to avoid blasting during migration seasons for larger whale species such as southern right and humpback whales, semi-migratory and other species will still be within the survey area during the blasting period and will be affected by the noise.
These include beaked whales, Bryde’s whales and sperm whales. A beaked whale species called True’s has never been seen alive at sea, with not much being known about their behaviour, distribution and abundance. There are other species of turtles, squid and fish for whom the same can be said, and so the effects of the seismic activity on these species cannot be known or adequately prepared for. It is of concern that deep diving beaked whales may surface too quickly and die from barotrauma as a result of the blasting. Bowhead whales have been shown to change their surface respiration and cease their calls.
Tissue damage has been recorded, especially in mammals but in other, smaller animals as well. Temporary and permanent hearing loss has been observed and whale calves have been separated from their mothers due to the noise levels. Foraging and nursing could be affected. Behavioural changes could involve changes in time spent at the water’s surface, dive times and energy costs due to having to travel greater distances in an attempt to evade the sound. The stress that is caused by the seismic blasts can change body physiology, affecting growth and reproduction and can even result in death. Fish also depend on sound for communicating with group members and young, food-finding, reproduction, avoiding predators and hazards, navigation and sensing their environment. Without any baseline surveys having been done to determine the effects of the airgun blasting on marine life in the area, we can rely only on the limited information available and this information paints a bleak picture for the aquatic animals along our coast.