Silent Oceans: Explosive noise off Santorin

Geoscience interests outweigh species conservation

In September 2015 OceanCare received notice of plans by the geophysics research institute of the University of Columbia and the US National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct seismic surveys to examine the local ocean floor around the Greek island of Santorin. According to the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, such projects must undergo public consultation.

The proposal included pulsing explosive noise of up to 240 dB from a seismic vessel at the sea floor at intervals of 10 to 15 seconds over a 30 day period in November and December 2015. It was to be a total of 384 hours of loud and destructive noise. The sound waves penetrate hundreds of kilometres into the ocean floor. The echoes of the sounds that reflect back to the sea surface are recorded by 93 receivers and analysed. The documents frankly admitted that a significant number of animals will be compromised.

OceanCare submitted a detailed Statement of Concern warning the US authorities of the dramatic consequences, including for Mediterranean monk seals, the most critically endangered marine mammal species in Europe. The statement concluded that the application should be rejected because it contradicts existing species conservation regulations. OceanCare also intervened with the Greek Government and the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). 4,300 people signed the Silent Oceans petition to the US Government not to permit infernal noise around Santorin.

However, very disappointingly, the geophysical survey was put into effect, posing threats to sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and Mediterranean monk seals – species listed in Appendix I to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) which should have granted them the highest level of protection. All this happened in a marine area that has been declared ecologically and biologically sensitive and highly significant by ACCOBAMS and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).