HIGHLANDS, NJ - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has issued the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) for a seismic study of the seafloor that would allow a Rutgers University expedition to harm and harass 18,457 animals of 32 different marine mammal species, including those that are endangered. The purpose of the study is to assess sea-level rise 60 million years ago. The issuing of this IHA brings ocean blasting one step closer to happening off the New Jersey coast, despite loud opposition from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, federal and state elected officials, fishermen, community members, and concerned citizens. In fact, this year, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) used its power under federal law to reject the study due to the negative impact on fisheries as well as marine mammals.
Following a failed attempt in 2014, Rutgers University, Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, the National Science Foundation, and University of Texas are again proposing to conduct a 3-D seismic vessel survey in the Atlantic Ocean 15.5 miles off the coast of Barnegat Inlet, New Jersey. The project includes the use of an array of 4 airguns. The airguns will blast the ocean at 246 decibels every 5-6 seconds, 24 hours a day for 30 days between June and August 2015.
Endangered species that can be harmed by this project include the North Atlantic right whale, humpback, sei, fin, blue and sperm whales. The authorization would marine mammals to have their migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding and sheltering disturbed. Studies have also shown harm seismic testing causes to marine life including shellfish. All in the name of science, apparently.
“It is unconscionable that Rutgers and its funder, the National Science Foundation, are going to such extreme lengths to ignore the harm that will be done to marine life—including infant bottlenose dolphins, and endangered species such as sea turtles. The 60 million year old rocks would still be there in January, when less marine life will be in the area, the blatant lack of concern for marine life is appalling,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director for Clean Ocean Action.
Thousands have signed a petition and hundreds attended a public meeting last summer in Barnegat, NJ opposing this seismic study, which was canceled last summer due to mechanical issues with the research vessel.
New Jersey’s State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) sent a letter on March 6, 2015, to the National Science Foundation (NSF) opposing the study due to the harm to marine life and fisherman. Officially the NJDEP determined that the study is inconsistent with New Jersey’s Coastal Zone Management rules, and therefore it should not move forward. The letter including a range of alternative measures to lessen the impacts of the study, but so far, there does not appear to be any commitment from Rutgers or NSF to adopt any of these alternatives. Clean Ocean Action, Senator Menendez and Booker, Congressman Pallone, LoBiondo, and Smith sent a letter in April requesting an extension for the IHA comment period, which the National Marine Fisheries Service has failed to respond to, further ignoring the public’s involvement and concerns over this project.
"It's not a surprise that NOAA has taken a page from the Army Corp of Engineer's playbook. Rule number one is to protect marine mammals and fish when making decisions about recreational and commercial fishing,” said Tom Fote, Jersey Coast Anglers Association. “Rule number two is to ignore rule number one when the Army Corp of Engineers, NOAA or the Department of the Interior want to trample coastal zone management protections."
“We are extremely disappointed that the federal government and Universities feel that this unnecessary study should go forward,” said Jim Lovgren with Fishermen’s Dock Cooperative. “The project itself is going to cause indisputable economic harm to the fishing industry. Hopefully, the NJDEP will take the parties back to court on this study and they won't get off on a technicality.”
“The ocean is an integral part of my life and I am thankful to have shared it with my husband, children, grandchildren, family and friends. We were buffeted by hurricanes throughout my life in Florida and New Jersey. Each time we were fortunate to be able to “dig out”. Now new threats confront us - not those of nature, but of man. As a concerned citizen of Long Beach Island, I join others in asking that the seismic blasting to be done off the coast of Long Beach Island not be done. Seismic blasting during peak summer months will be harmful to marine life, fisheries, and our treasured Jersey Shore,” said Mary Wilding, LBI resident