WCA opposes oil and gas developments

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The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is appalled to learn that the South African government has authorised a seismic survey off the south-east coast in January 2024, close to two designated Whale Heritage Areas, Algoa Bay and Plettenberg Bay.

This news makes South Africa the latest in a series of nations deciding to expand fossil fuel extraction at the expense of the environment. Earlier this year, the UK approved a new oilfield in the North Sea and granted more than 100 new drilling licenses, including in locations that overlap with Marine Protected Areas.

The WCA remains unequivocally opposed to all oil and gas developments due to the serious threat that they pose to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), the marine environment, and the climate as a whole.

Photo of orca at Algoa Bay Whale Heritage Area by Lloyd Edwards, Raggy Charters

A united position

We fully support the steering committees and local communities of Algoa Bay and Plettenberg Bay in objecting to the proposed seismic survey off the South African coast.

These locations have been designated as Whale Heritage Areas in recognition of their unique and precious marine biodiversity, as well as the importance of ocean health to their communities, all of which would be endangered by seismic exploration. We stand with the many people who have taken to beaches and streets along the coastline to protest the intended survey.

Photo of CGG seismic survey protest by Oceans Not Oil / Plett Environment Forum

We’re also proud to announce that the WCA is now a member of the Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling, joining other marine protection organisations in calling for an immediate ban on new oil and gas developments in UK waters. We support fellow members Uplift and Greenpeace, who have today announced that they will be filing court cases challenging the UK government’s approval of the Rosebank oil field.

We believe that the government’s decision to approve Rosebank is not just morally and economically wrong but unlawful. The legal cases will argue that the government failed to assess the emissions generated from Rosebank’s oil and are downplaying the disastrous consequences for marine life, and that Rosebank is not compatible with the UK’s climate commitments.

The impact on cetaceans

If the seismic survey in South Africa goes ahead, an offshore vessel will blast the seas near the Whale Heritage Areas with powerful airguns, producing a sound 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, which can travel for thousands of kilometres underwater. These blasts will be repeated every few seconds, 24 hours a day, for four to five months.

Unsurprisingly, seismic blasts can cause profound and lasting harm to ocean wildlife, particularly to the sensitive auditory systems of cetaceans. Research shows that noise from seismic testing not only leads to physical harm for cetaceans, such as hearing damage, but also disrupts vital behaviours like feeding, breathing, communication, and navigation – even when oil and gas companies use mitigation measures.

Photo of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Plettenberg Bay Whale Heritage Area by Dr. Gwen Penry

One study found that seismic activity led to an 88% decrease in sightings of baleen whales and a 53% decrease in sightings of toothed whales, demonstrating large-scale negative effects across multiple species.

In addition to noise pollution from seismic surveys, recent reports have revealed that oil and gas developments also result in routine oil spills, marine habitat loss, and contamination of the ocean through toxic chemicals and microplastics.

Supporting communities for a sustainable future

There can be no justification for choosing to increase fossil fuel production in the face of a worsening climate crisis. Governments worldwide should be reducing carbon emissions as a matter of urgency to avoid the worst consequences of climate change; instead, recent emissions are the highest in history.

We take hope from the fact that, in Algoa Bay Whale Heritage Area, civic action and court applications prevented Shell from carrying out a seismic survey in 2021. A High Court judgement ruled that the right to exploration was granted unlawfully, since decision-makers failed to consult the affected communities or consider many of the potential damaging consequences. This was not only a success for the environment, but also for the local people – including WCA Partners – who came together to ensure their voices were heard.

One of our greatest strengths at the WCA is our alliance itself. We believe that real change comes from working in partnership, empowering local communities, and following a shared sense of purpose. Together, we’ll continue to advocate for cetaceans and their habitats, and stand against the developments that threaten to harm them.

If you’d like to support the #StopRosebank court case in the UK, you can add your name to the campaign here.

Photo of CGG seismic survey protest by Oceans Not Oil / Plett Environment Forum

Header photo of CGG seismic survey protest by Oceans Not Oil / Plett Environment Forum.

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