South African scientists calls upon govt to halt Shell’s seismic survey

A group of leading South African marine scientists on Thursday called on the government to halt Shell’s seismic survey along the Wild Coast due to concerns about damaging impacts.

Shell was due to begin the acoustic survey along the Wild Coast on Wednesday, but faces a legal challenge in the Makhanda High Court, where environmental groups have called for an urgent ban to halt the project. Marine tracking websites showed the inspection vessel was in place off the coast of Morgan Bay.


In a letter to the government, the objectionable scientists claim that recent scientific studies suggest that seismic studies are harmful to both large marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, as well as tiny plankton. The letter is addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cabinet members Gwede Mantashe and Barbara Creecy.

The scientists include several leading world figures in the fields of marine biology and marine ecology, including Dr. Larry Oellermann, Executive Director of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR); Prof Kenneth Findlay, Research Chair: Ocean Economics, Center for Sustainable Oceans, Cape Peninsula University of Technology; and Professor Isabelle Ansorge, Director of the Department of Oceanography at the University of Cape Town.

“South Africa’s marine ecosystems and the sustainable blue economies of the coastal community that depend on their health are being threatened by the deployment of seismic surveys offshore,” the letter says. “There is a growing body of evidence pointing to the immediate and long-term, and largely incontestable, negative impacts of this invasive method on sea creatures.

“We note that much of this evidence, and growing global opposition to this survey method [has stopped in the exclusive economic zones of some countries], has only come to light after the granting of current permits, despite of his questionable status, “said the group.

The Makhanda High Court is expected to deliver a verdict on Friday on the urgent injunction, which could thwart Shell’s overseas ambitions. The oil giant’s legal representatives told the court that Shell may have to abandon the project if it is prevented from conducting studies this month. “Their entire case [of the applicants] is based on speculative damage, which is belied by real evidence and experience from seismic studies around the world,” Shell attorney Adrian Friedman told the Cape Times. “The seismic survey is being carried out in accordance with an economic imperative, for the benefit of the entire country, of energy security. The plaintiffs allege that irreversible damage will be suffered, without explaining what that means. ”

However, in their letter, the scientists say there are numerous scientific and regulatory concerns with seismic studies, including an alleged “deficiency in current Environmental Impact Regulations” related to the technology. “This omission must be rectified before further permits are considered,” the group said. They have also requested a strategic environmental assessment of all current and future seismic studies “to determine key environmental and social constraints and sensitivities.”


The group also claims that the surveys, which seek to assess the viability of offshore gas extraction, contradict SA’s commitment at the October global climate conference (COP26) to move away from hydrocarbon-based energy.