Seismic saga: Eastern Cape communities fight for the ocean

Community members in Gqeberha protest against seismic activity in the province: Picture: Supplied.

Community members in Gqeberha protest against seismic activity in the province: Picture: Supplied.

Published May 17, 2023


Fisherfolk, environmentalists and concerned citizens from the coastal areas of Gqeberha and Plettenberg Bay staged a protest recently, to voice their opposition to a planned seismic study by the multinational corporation CGG Services. The projected survey will cover 12,750 km² at depths ranging from 200 to 4000 metres.

Communities pointed out that the goal of the seismic study is to find oil and gas resources in the oceans' rocky formations and will be conducted over a period of four to five months.

The survey will be done by a seismic survey ship equipped with 18 airguns and hydrophone receivers that fire sonic booms into the sea floor every 5 to 20 seconds.

Each airgun generates a sound that is between 220 and 250 decibels, which is louder than the launch of a Saturn V rocket.

According to a press release by the joint concerned citizens group, the Port Elizabeth Corals Marine Protected Area, home to a sizeable population of critically endangered kingklip corals, is included in the survey area.

The survey region also lies inside the Agulhas current, and several additional significant MPAs border the proposed survey area.

The conclusion of the kingklip spawning season, the beginning of the sardine run along the Eastern Cape coast, and the migration of turtles and their hatchlings all coincide with the date of the survey.

The sardine run is an important migration for both fisherfolk and animals alike. The harvesting of sardines contributes significantly to the local economy and the future of other species, such as the critically-endangered African penguin, dolphins, whales, sharks and a massive array of seabirds.

Coastal towns anticipate the sardine run to begin in April and continue through May along the Cape's southern and eastern shores.

Turtles and their young hatchlings migrate in a direction that coincides with the survey area and generally follows the path of the Agulhas current.

Hatchling turtles, in particular, are vulnerable to hearing loss, entanglement with survey equipment and even death. Important turtle habitats may be lost as a result of changes in turtle behaviour brought about by the surveys.

The communities also said that changes in water temperature are correlated with kingklip spawning along the southern and eastern Cape coasts. Kingklip mating rituals utilise sound to attract mates during the autumn upwelling of cooler water.

It should be noted that this poll has an indeterminate goal. CGG plans to resell the survey results. Multinational oil and gas businesses like these might gain significantly from this poll.

As a whole, those who have applied for production rights in Blocks 11B and 12B, of which a portion overlaps with the survey area, already have exploration rights in the region.

As a result, we believe our survey has the potential to encourage the continued deployment of fossil fuels in South Africa and internationally.

The group found these points to be “extremely concerning since we know that the world as a whole has to drastically cut down on its reliance on fossil fuels as an energy source in order to prevent additional global warming and the irreversible implications this would have for all species on Earth and in the ocean.”

“Many of us in Gqeberha are feeling the effects of the terrible drought that has been going on for quite some time. Port St. John's coastal residents and fishermen were hit hard by floods in April, losing homes and valuable fishing equipment,” the statement read.

The communities demand that the government uphold their right guaranteed by the Constitution ‘’to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations.’’

“To address the world's energy needs, we do not have to rely on fossil fuels, in our opinion. It is imperative that our government aids in a fair transition to renewable energy sources,” the statement concluded.

IOL Environment