Noise off Croatia
Intense noise in species-rich Adriatic Sea
Between September 2013 to January 2014 the Norwegian company Spectrum searched the Adriatic Sea for crude oil. So-called airguns fired sound blasts of up to 240 decibels at the sea floor, pulsing every 10 to 15 seconds, for weeks. All this took place in the middle of a very sensitive cetacean habitat, and without having first carried out any form of environmental impact assessment (EIA). The search designated 29 potential oil production zones measuring between 1,000 and 1,600 km².
Stirred into action by OceanCare, more than 9,000 people, alongside representatives of the tourism industry, protested against this outrage. Silent Oceans partner organisations lobbied the Croatian Government and the regional conservation agreement ACCOBAMS. It was not until the end of 2014 that the Government responded to the public’s objections and announced that a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) would be carried out prior to licensing oil development in Croatian waters. OceanCare criticised this late and inconsistent response. An SEA is only a matter of course and is, by no means, a substitute for a thorough EIA. Given the huge threats that seismic exploration and oil drillings pose to marine wildlife, a transparent and highly critical risk assessment can be expected.
In early 2015, six petroleum companies competed for licenses for 15 of the potential oil fields. Upon approval, the companies would be granted permission to carry out detailed surveys within five years and develop any identified oil field for up to 25 years. Austrian petroleum company OMV together with US-based Marathon Oil Corporation planned to develop oil deposits in seven sectors of the Croatian Adriatic, including in deeper waters that are an important habitat of the Cuvier’s beaked whale, a species particularly susceptible to intensive noise. OceanCare’s call on OMV to drop these plans found strong support from Austrian environmental groups. The wave of public and political protest in Austria and Croatia grew, and finally in July 2015 OMV and Marathon Oil withdrew from their development plans in the Adriatic Sea.
However, the danger is far from being averted. The Croatian government does not care much about threats to the environment and to tourism and still seems willing to throw the doors wide open for risky oil production in the Adriatic. OceanCare maintains our pressure.