I wrote to you recently about the U.S. government’s plans to allow seismic airguns in the U.S. Atlantic. This technology, used to search for oil and gas deposits, could injure an estimated 138,200 dolphins and whales and usher in offshore oil drilling. A similar battle is occurring across the Atlantic, where the Spanish government is planning to open 45 percent of the Spanish Mediterranean to seismic surveys, putting local ecosystems and economies at serious risk.
I partnered with actor and activist Ted Danson to write an editorial for the Huffington Post about how citizens on Ibiza and across Europe are fighting to keep drilling out of Spanish waters, and I’d like to share it with you now.
Spanish Mediterranean Threatened By Seismic Airguns
By Ted Danson and Andrew Sharpless
When you think of Ibiza, you picture sun-drenched shores, turquoise waters, and throngs of carousing tourists. You don’t envision a civil uprising of thousands of angry residents. In just one of many recent protests on the Balearic Islands, a crowd of 18,000 people gathered on Ibiza to fight government plans to drill for oil and gas near the islands. Similar outrage is spreading across Europe, as people learn that a beloved destination could eventually be blighted by a disastrous oil spill.
The Spanish Mediterranean sustains this region’s strong culinary history, booming tourism trade, and spectacular marine reserves. But despite the ocean’s importance, the Spanish government is planning to open 45 percent of the Spanish Mediterranean to offshore oil development, putting local ecosystems and economies at serious risk.
It would begin with seismic blasts — deafening roars of compressed air shooting through the water. Towed behind boats, seismic airguns are used to map deposits of oil and gas beneath the ocean floor. But the noise of seismic blasts is immensely harmful to marine life — from massive whales to tiny fish.
Two companies — Spectrum and Cairn — want to use this technology to map 11.3 million marine hectares of ocean in Andalusia’s Alboran Sea, Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Oceana estimates that the noise will actually extend far beyond these survey tracts, harming marine life across more than 17 million marine hectares, including 82 protected areas. The Mediterranean contains 18 percent of all described marine species, of which 25 to 30 percent are found nowhere else in the world.
Under the current plans, seismic blasting would occur a mere 40 kilometers away from the Balearic Islands, hotspots for both tourism and biodiversity. Just miles from Ibiza’s tourist-filled beaches are bottlenose dolphins, green turtles, corals gardens, and many commercial fish species. These waters are also a critical spawning ground for the threatened bluefin tuna.
Seismic exploration also harms fisheries, affecting the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on the Mediterranean for their livelihoods and food. Research on the impact of seismic surveys on fishing in the North Atlantic showed that some commercial species were affected even more than 30 kilometres away, decreasing fishermen’s catches by as much as 70 to 80 percent.
Seismic exploration is just the first step to offshore oil production, which would threaten the waters of Spain, and other nations, with an inevitable oil spill. Some of the potential drilling projects are located near the boundary of Spain’s Exclusive Economic Zone, where a future spill could seep into the waters of other countries.
The Spanish government’s willingness to consider offshore oil drilling, despite the ongoing climate crisis, is an ill-advised investment in fossil-fuel energy. It’s out of line with European Union goals to reduce emissions and with the wishes of many Spaniards.
Oceana raised the alarm about the dangers of offshore drilling more than five years ago. Since then, we’ve worked with the Balearic Islands and regional governments to oppose offshore drilling, and urged the Spanish government to halt the projects.
Recently, more than 50 organizations from the Balearic Islands, including town halls, governments, and tourism groups formed a lobbying group to fight back, called the Mar Blava Alliance. Petitions against exploration and drilling have already exceeded 40,000 signatures, and other Europeans are also joining the fight.
The message is clear: drilling rigs don’t belong here. We urge Spain to keep seismic airguns out of their waters, protecting marine life, fish, and the people that rely upon them.
For the oceans,
Chief Executive Officer
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