EU hears concerns about marine mammals over the disturbance of seismic surveys

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Brussels, Belgium

Conservationists including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org), OceanCare (www.oceancare.org) and NRDC (www.nrdc.org) welcome today's vote in the Environment Committee of the European Parliament to make underwater noise pollution related to  oil exploration subject to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA).

“The revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive is far from a perfect piece of legislation but it is an improvement for important areas of marine conservation,” said Barbara Slee, IFAW EU Marine Campaigner. “Previously EU legislation only required an EIA prior to drilling on the seabed. With the agreed changes to the Directive, EIAs have to be extended to cover the exploratory phase, requiring the harmful effects of seismic activities to be accounted for.”

“The oil and gas industry shouldn't turn a deaf ear to the public and political leaders on this important issue.  They need to turn down deadly ocean noise pollution and do it now,"continued Slee.

Research by IFAW and others has shown a link between intense underwater noise and mass strandings of marine animals. The intense pounding of industry airguns is loud enough to mask whale calls over literally thousands of miles, destroying their capacity to communicate and breed.  It can drive whales to abandon their habitat and cease foraging, again over vast areas of ocean.  Closer in, it can cause permanent hearing loss and injury.  Noise travels five times faster and many times farther in the ocean than it does in air, which is why whales, dolphins, and many other species, including many species of fish, depend on their hearing for reproduction and survival.

“This decision is long overdue and simply a necessity. Europe is still lagging behind when it comes to proper impact assessments, transparent consultation processes and regulating the oil industry” says Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare. OceanCare, together with a coalition of NGOs has been criticising the continuation of seismic activities in, among others, Croatian and Greek waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Seismic activities using airguns involve the emission of intense sound every few seconds over a period of many weeks or even months,” said MEP Kriton Arsenis. “As humans, we would not be able to withstand exposure to that kind of noise and the effects are likely to be much worse on marine species which rely on sound in the way that we rely on sight.” 

“Today’s decision recognizes the enormous impact that seismic surveys can have on the marine environment, and not just on marine mammals, but on fish and fisheries as well,” said Michael Jasny, Director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project.  “The Committee’s action is welcome, responsible, and long overdue. It is now up to all MEPs to show the same fortitude and courage at the plenary vote in approving this directive.”

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