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Whale of a win: Environmental victory protects whales from noise pollution

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It's the sort of activity that ordinarily requires approval under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, and other federal laws. And yet the government has allowed it to proceed without authorization in the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that may well be the most heavily prospected on the planet.

Industry runs dozens of exploration surveys each year in the northern Gulf, and many of them make use of large airgun arrays. For more than a decade now, the problem has languished, even as the threat posed by airgun exploration has loomed larger and larger.

Our alliance of conservation groups sued over the government's failure. In the end, we reached agreement with both federal officials and industry representatives that will help protect marine mammals while a comprehensive environmental review is underway. 

Among other things, our settlement puts biologically important areas off-limits to high-energy exploration, expands protections to additional at-risk species and requires the use of listening devices to help prevent injury to endangered sperm whales. Our agreement is also forward-looking, requiring industry to develop and field-test an alternative to airguns known as marine vibroseis, which could substantially reduce many of the impacts. Over the long term, the hope is that working together stands a better chance of saving species in the Gulf's biologically compromised, politically heated environment.

Marine conservation in the Gulf isn't like conservation in other places. Among other difficulties, the disruptive activities NRDC is concerned about are affecting the same populations still suffering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

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