Shell plans underwater explosions during peak whale season

Shell plans to look for oil and gas off the South African coast, a measure that threatens whales during the mating season.

The oil giant will conduct underwater explosions to locate deep-sea oil and gas reserves, with ships at sea for five months from December 1. They travel between Morgan Bay to the south and Port St Johns – an area known as the Wild Coast.

These explosions generate loud shock wave emissions that penetrate three km of water and 40 km of the Earth’s crust below the sea floor, harming marine life.

While the investigation will not be about drilling at this stage, it is raises wider concerns on marine pollution, climate change and South Africa’s national energy policy. As well as the fear for the future development of the region if Shell were to discover commercial quantities of oil or gas off this coast.

Kickbacks from activists on the ground

But the reconnaissance plans are meeting fierce opposition from environmentalists in South Africa, some from the Extinction Rebellion branch in Cape Town.

A petition from Oceans Not Oil Coalition started to get Barbara Creecy (South Africa’s environment minister) to revoke Shell’s license and currently has nearly 363,000 signatures.

It says the explosions will leave whales, dolphins, seals, penguins, sharks and even crabs “panic and damaged”, adding that the ship will operate around the clock, firing air cannons every 10 seconds.

“At a time when world leaders are making promises and deciding to move away from fossil fuels, as climate science has shown we cannot burn our existing reserves (let alone drill for more),” it adds, “offshore oil is forcing — and gas operation Phakisa increasingly difficult to secure a local gas supply.”

Happy Khambule is Senior Campaign Manager Climate and Energy for Greenpeace Africa. He calls Shell a ‘climate criminal’.

“Shell’s activities threaten to destroy the Wild Coast and the lives of the people who live there. South Africa’s problems do not require violent extraction or destruction of the environment and the livelihood of the community.

“The best and most immediate solution is a just transition to renewable energy, ensuring safe and decent jobs and access to energy for all,” he explains.

Tracy Carter describes herself as a concerned South African citizen, whose family hails from the Wild Coast in the Transkei. She also spoke to Euronews Green about how devastated she would be if the Shell exploration continues.

“Just to give you an idea of ​​the Wild Coast, where my family comes from, it’s the most incredibly breathtaking place you can ever dream of. The ocean is lush and abundant with marine life of all shapes and sizes,” she says.

“I was genuinely shocked that after the COP26 summit, Shell had the audacity to continue with the seismic surveys when the goal is to move the world away from fossil fuels. There was absolutely no public notice to South Africans on this matter.”

Tracy emphasizes that it is important to make as many people as possible aware that this “horrific act” is going on.

Whales in South Africa

South Africa is one of the best destinations in the world for whale and dolphin watching. Annual visits from humpback and southern right whales and the presence of huge pods of dolphins year round provide great viewing opportunities from both land and boat.

Southern right whales and humpback whales migrate to the warmer waters of southern Africa between June and December to mate and rear calves.

The annual visits of the whales from Cape Town to Mossel Bay are so predictable that the south coast is also called the ‘whale route’ and there is a whale festival every year in Hermanus.

Shell’s disruptive investigations will begin as these whale families make their way back to icy feeding grounds in Antarctica this year, meaning many could be damaged or killed along the way.

“Having grown up in one of the most pristine areas on the planet and seen the migration of whales over the years, it means a lot to me to fight for the protection and conservation of this area and the marine life that will be affected if this seismic survey continues,” adds Tracy.

In response to concerns about the impact of underwater explosions on the marine environment, a Shell spokesperson said: told New Frame“The effects are well understood and counteracted when conducting seismic surveys. This is supported by decades of scientific research and the development of international best practice guidelines.

“There is no evidence that seismic surveys are associated with strandings of (whales and dolphins),” they conclude.

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