Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
Seismic Vibes

Seismic tests and marine life

By BETH CAMERON*, Special to Shunpiking Online

(EASTERN PASSAGE, December 3, 2003) -- As a marine biologist and native of Inverness, I am disgusted by the decision of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) to allow seismic exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Despite strong protests by scientists, fishermen, tourism operators, Native groups, and environmental organizations, the board has chosen to risk the Gulf's fragile and diverse ecosystem, sustainable snow crab fishery, and growing ecotourism industry for a chance at some oil and gas money.

Seismic exploration involves blasting huge air guns directly at the sea floor. The echoes of these blasts are then recorded and used to interpret the structure of the sea floor and the layers beneath it. According to an article by Joseph Brean in the National Post (November 29, 2003), the blasts planned for the Gulf can be heard underwater halfway to Europe. The immense pressure generated by these sound waves can cause several physical damage to marine organisms. This damage has been best documented in whales, which can be deafened or even killed by seismic blasts. Excessive noise may also scare whales from their usual feeding grounds and migratory routes. Fish are also damaged by these blasts. Do our struggling fish stocks really need another setback? The board has already been told that there is a possibility for long-term damage to cod populations.

Little is known about the effects of seismic blasts on crabs and lobsters, although a study conducted in Newfoundland has suggested that egg development in female snow crabs may be hampered by seismic sound waves. Fragile planktonic organisms such as larval crabs and fish wouldn't stand a chance against such blasts.

Corridor Resources says that since the snow crab fishery will be closed during the proposed blasting, snow crab stocks will not be harmed, an argument as nonsensical as it is self-serving. They also claim that studies have found that seismic blasting does not immediately harm adult snow crabs. Yet, nothing is known about the effects of seismic blasting on small juvenile crabs, the ones fishermen hope to harvest in five or six years. No immediate effects, perhaps, but do we want to risk long-term ones?

While there is no denying that western Cape Breton needs an economic boost, risking our renewable marine resources for the possibility of some nonrenewable oil revenue -- little of which will likely stay in Cape Breton -- is inexcusable. It is risking far too much for far too little.

©Beth Cameron *Beth Cameron is a marine biologist and a resident of Eastern Passage, NS