The incredible biodiversity found along our coast should be protected, not exposed to danger and/or chased away. Within the five MPAs that fall within the exploration area, there is a vast spectrum of biodiversity. Underwater features, ecological transition zones, fish and cetacean species ranging from critically endangered to vulnerable, including endemic species such as the red steenbras. There are major concerns on the effects of seismic blasting on corals, turtles, dolphins or whales; some devastating effects on the ocean’s zooplankton have recently been documented. Other species of great concern are the numerous turtle species found along the South African coast, Cape Fur Seals, African Penguins and Black Oystercatcher.
Algoa Bay was declared the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World in 2016, hosts the Addo Marine Protected Area and is home to various vulnerable and endangered species, including 43% of the global population of the African penguin which is classified as Endangered in the Red IUCN list. The area is also a significant breeding population of Cape cormorant and Bird Island is one of only six breeding sites in the world for the Cape gannet and is home to Cape fur seals and albatrosses.
There is an active boat-based whale and dolphin watching industry in Algoa Bay which, together with the scuba diving eco-tours, can offer close-up encounters with the unique wildlife in the bay and can ultimately offer potentially long term and regenerative jobs.Mitigation measures state that no airguns are to be set off if there are large or small cetaceans, diving seabirds or turtles within a 500m range for a period of at 30 minutes prior to firing. In the same point, it is stated that if small cetaceans are still within 500m of the airguns after 30 minutes, the normal soft start procedure will be allowed to commence for at least a 20 minute duration. How does a method that is in direct contradiction with the previous statement serve as compliance?
Mass disorientation or the stunning of fish as a result of seismic survey activities has been observed. This indicates that effects on fish populations in the area are expected. These effects will no doubt have knock on effects throughout the ecosystems and these have not been adequately examined and mitigated for. Small fish mortality associated with airgun operation and unusual bird sightings are also listed as impacts to be noted, showing once again that these negative effects on the fauna of the area are expected.
In terms of monitoring impacts to assist with any possible compensation negotiations, the compliance audit states that noise levels during the survey will be monitored in areas within 25km of the Marine Protected Areas. Why is it that noise levels within 25km are being monitored when seismic activity is allowed to take place a mere 2km away from the MPAs? This implies that larger impacts are expected.
If resources are found, the following offshore drilling will potentially produce petroleum along with a host of other environmentally harmful substances including arsenic, nickel, copper, chromium, zinc and barium. Heavy metals and hydrocarbons can be devastating for the health of marine organisms and to the people who live and feed off the coast. Another major environmental concern is linked to the disposal of highly toxic production waste caused by the hydrocarbon drilling. Oil spills can quickly traverse vast distances. The Benguela current is one of the strongest and most dangerous in the world, which can have devastating effects in the case of an oil spill. These types of devastation will also destroy livelihoods to over 50 000 subsistence fisher folk who eke out a living daily. Even small occasional spills will impact local communities and increase poverty and lead to more people joining the unemployment line. The risk of an oil spill polluting our beaches is also of grave concern, which would have far reaching consequences on the ecosystems and aquatic life along our coastline.
The decline in sea bird populations, the destruction of fish eggs and larvae, the immune system suppression in organisms, the destruction of delicate seabeds, the temporary or permanent hearing loss in fish and mammals, the abandonment of habitats, the disruption of mating and feeding, disorientation, stranding or beaching and death of many species are of grave concern to us. For whales and dolphins, who rely on their hearing to find food, communicate and reproduce, being able to hear is a life-or-death matter. These blasts have shown to cause massive mortality and destruction in zooplankton, which is the basis of all marine food chains. This would also result in increased economic challenges.
With regards to the health of the communities who rely on a healthy oceanic system to make out their living, the following health impacts have been found: itchy eyes, watery eyes, nosebleeds, wheezing, sneezing, and coughing are all symptoms of exposure to crude oil. Chest pain, respiratory problems, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems are also common ailments. A study of clean-up workers from the 2002 Prestige oil spill in Spain found increased DNA damage, especially among those who worked along beaches. Such genetic changes can lead to cancer. Mental health increases in symptoms of post-traumatic stress, generalized anxiety disorder and of depression.
These activities will affect all the coastal communities and businesses and the economies and the health of residents; we find unacceptable that further investments are directed towards fossil fuels and activities which are harmful for present and future generations in view of the recent climate change agreements during COP26 in Glasgow. The conclusion of the compliance audit is as follows, “The compliance audit against the EMPr was largely not applicable, since no activities in respect of the Transkei Algoa Exploration Right have commenced at the time of reporting. Additionally, the EMPr contains management and mitigation measures in line with current legislative requirements and industry standards.” There is simply not enough research or experience on the short and long term effects of the seismic exploration on the marine ecosystems, nor on the fauna found within them, to allow for these activities to proceed in good conscience.
South Africa should be looking to attract foreign investment in alternative eco-energy sources.