Climate

Loggerhead, Right Whale Breeding Grounds Are Entirely Covered By Atlantic Blasting Area

CREDIT: Oceana

Nearly the entire breeding areas for loggerhead turtles (purple, left) and North Atlantic right whales (red, right) would be affected.

A set of maps released Tuesday shows an incredible overlap between the critical habitats of several endangered and seafood species and the area that will be affected by seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Significant portions of the habitats and breeding grounds for loggerhead turtles, right whales, swordfish, cod, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, and many other species would be impacted if the Obama administration approves permits for the testing, which could start as soon as this spring. The entire breeding areas for loggerheads and the North Atlantic right whale are covered by the testing area.

During seismic testing, loud noises — so loud they can be heard underwater 2,500 miles away — are bounced off the ocean floor to determine oil and gas reservoirs. The process is understandably tough on marine life. Whales use sounds to communicate for mating and to stay in touch with young, as well as to find food. Some fish, such as haddock and cod, have shown significant decreases in catch rates during and after seismic testing, while shellfish breeding is likewise impacted.

“The only known calving ground [for North Atlantic right whales] overlaps with where the seismic testing would be,” Ingrid Biedron, a marine scientist at Oceana, told ThinkProgress.

The six maps, released this week by Oceana, display critical habitats for loggerheads and right whales and essential habitats for sharks, migratory species, mid-Atlantic fish and south Atlantic fish.

Last year, a group of 75 marine scientists told President Obama that “the magnitude of the proposed seismic activity is likely to have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on the reproduction and survival of fish and marine mammal populations in the region, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, of which approximately only 500 remain.”

Ironically, the permit applications are continuing to be considered even though the Atlantic has been taken out of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s five-year plan for oil and gas development.

"With offshore drilling off the table in the Atlantic, there is absolutely no reason to risk the damage that would be caused by unnecessary seismic airgun blasting in the region,” Claire Douglass, campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. "These maps clearly show that seismic airgun blasting could threaten coastal communities, economies, fisheries and marine mammals."

An earlier proposal for drilling off the Southeastern United States caused an upswell of opposition that was widely credited for the administration dropping the proposal. But advocates of oil and gas development off the coast point out that there is no guarantee that the next administration won't reconsider the plan, and seismic testing will let developers know what resources could be available. There are currently eight applications to conduct seismic testing making their way through the permitting process.