Whales, dolphins, penguins and turtles could be affected by a new seismic testing program off the coast of South Africa, conservationists warn.
Energy giant Shell plans to discharge underwater sound guns every 10 seconds for the next four to five months as it searches for new oil and gas reserves.
The project will take place 20 kilometres offshore, across 6000 square kilometres of ocean along the country’s pristine west coast.
While a spokesperson for Shell told Yahoo News they have a history of applying “stringent controls... to protect the environment”, conservationists say the project could impact sonar sensitive wildlife.
Speaking from Cape Town last night, Neil Greenwood from non-profit International Fund for Animal Welfare said he has “real welfare concerns” about the noise Shell will generate.
“Because without a doubt, if you are using sonar and noise bouncing that off the bottom of the ocean, there's no way that's not going to be impacting on some of the species down there,” he said.
“Dolphins and whales are so dependent on using sonar and acoustics in just being able to go about their daily work.”
Gas and oil giant says seismic testing will be legal
Shell say a number of mitigations will help protect marine life in the seismic testing region.
Efforts will include a 500-metre exclusion zone around the sound source, to be monitored by an independent surveyor 24-hours a day.
The noise will slowly be increased and a 60 minute pre-watch will confirm there is no marine life within the zone before commencement, the company says.
Shell told Yahoo News that Shell is a “responsible global operator” and there have been similar surveys conducted “safely” off the coast.
“We have conducted a full environmental study in line with regulatory standards and acquired a legal permit to carry out the activity,” a Shell spokesperson said.
Despite the corporation's assurances IFAW’s Mr Greenwood is calling on the government to block the project, adding there is significant concern about its impact being voiced by tourism and fishing operators.
“Doing the survey is only the starting point, and if they do find oil and gas reserves in the location that they're looking at, that in itself poses quite a concern,” he said.
Mr Greenwood said if there was a spill, strong ocean currents could spread the oil all the way down the coastline, devastating ecosystems.
“It presents a big concern for us, because it also happens to be on what what is referred to as the wild coast, which is a really big sort of tourist area,” he said.
'Fossil fuel companies going back to business after COP26'
During the COP26 climate talks last month, the United Kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar partnership with South Africa to transition away from oil dependence.
Shell maintain that establishing commercially viable oil and gas reserves would significantly contribute to energy stability in South Africa.
Transitioning from coal to oil and gas indicates fossil fuel companies are simply going “back to business”, Mr Greenwood warns.
“Are we really taking this issue of climate change seriously, or are we just paying lip service to it in front of the right audience?” he said.
“It’s like we'll just go back to doing what we used to do anyway. We’ve kind of ticked the box and now we're going to move on.”
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