On June 5th, the Christie Administration filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court with the intent to stop the NSF-funded Rutgers seismic survey off of the New Jersey coast. The complaint cited concerns over the potential adverse impacts of the study on both commercial and recreational fisheries as well as its potential harm to marine mammals. NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin said that “It is extremely disappointing that the federal government is moving ahead with this misguided project despite widespread objection from all quarters and without regard to the negative impacts on New Jersey."
In addition to the state’s complaint, the Recreational Fisherman’s Alliance and a number of commercial fishing groups have filed suit against the National Science Foundation in an effort to obtain injunctive relief and halt the project. These groups are largely concerned with the effects that the study will have on their fishing efforts. Some commercial groups have already seen declines in their catch rates since the project began in early June.
Concerns over Marine Life Following Seismic Start
In the weeks since the Rutgers seismic blasting began, there have been reports of two—possibly three—dead whales in the New York/New Jersey bight. The first whale, a minke, washed up on the shore of Coney Island on June 8th. Its cause of death was determined to be a boat strike, but due to time restrictions and the length of time that the whale had been dead, scientists were unable to extract its ears to check for potential damage from anthropogenic sound. On June 10th, a pair of fisherman spotted a 40 foot whale floating approximately 10 miles off of Manasquan inlet. The whale was later identified as a fin, which is an endangered species. This whale’s cause of death was undetermined, and since that report, there has been one additional report of a dead whale off of the New Jersey coast. Details of this whale are still outstanding.
In addition to whale deaths, there have been a number of infant dolphin deaths—however, this isn’t necessarily unusual at this time of year. With bottlenose dolphin stocks in steep decline following the vast spread of Morbillivirus in the past few years, declines in dolphin populations are of particular concern. The marine mammal stranding center has been and continues to track dolphin deaths and strandings closely, and Clean Ocean Action has been following these stranding events as well. If you see any unusual behavior or activity related to marine mammals, please be sure to report it to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center at (609) 266-0538.
During the permitting process for this seismic survey, the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated consultation with NMFS due to the presence of several Endangered Species Act-listed species in the survey area, including 5 species of sea turtles, 6 species of whale, and 2 species of fish. At the end of this process, a scientific document was produced which was required to contemplate the potential impacts of the survey on all the endangered species in the area. Unfortunately, the document did not live up to what was required of it. The Atlantic Sturgeon was mentioned, and then quickly dismissed, as NMFS “believed” that it would not occur in the survey area. This is erroneous. On June 1, 2015, Clean Ocean Action sent a letter to the Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), alerting her to the fact that the Atlantic Sturgeon was wrongly omitted from the full impact evaluation process, citing studies that provided ample evidence that there are likely to be sturgeon present in the proposed testing area. Having never received a response regarding this letter, Clean Ocean Action wrote once more to Division Chief Peterson of NOAA with the same concerns. Clean Ocean Action continues to wait for a response regarding these concerns.
Haley Jordan, a Clean Ocean Action volunteer, has worked tirelessly over the past few months to assist us in designing a seismic surveying infographic, which has been released on our website and social media outlets. Haley has extensive graphic design skills and helped COA create a visual of the seismic surveying process and its potential effects on the marine ecosystem. If you’d like permission to use the infographic, please contact us at (732) 872-0111. Waves of thanks to Haley!