Surfers and fishers oppose Otway Basin seismic surveys

Surfers protest seismic surveys in the Bass Strait
Image: Jarrah Lynch

Surfers and fishers across Australia are opposing a proposed seismic survey for oil and gas in the Bass Strait, saying it would endanger marine life in the pristine waters.

The survey put forward by seismic survey company TGS and oilfield services company Schlumberger would cover 7.7 million hectares in the Otway Basin between Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, and is one of the largest of its kind planned anywhere in Australia. 

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“Seismic surveys consist of explosive underwater airgun blasts between 200-256 decibels—which is far louder than a plane taking off, or even a gunshot—firing every three to 10 seconds for 24 hours continuously for months on end to locate the best drill targets for oil and gas,” Surfers For Climate said in a statement.

“Surveys have been shown to have devastating effects on marine life, the blasts can kill plankton over 1km away. They have been shown to stress, deafen and harm fish, oysters, lobsters, squid, penguins, dolphins and whales, and are linked to the mass strandings of turtles, dolphins and whales. 

“If the project goes ahead, the proposed survey will be conducted in close proximity to many regional coastal towns in Victoria. As well as running through offshore locations that play a critical role in supporting high marine species diversity across Australia’s Southern coast.”

Surfers For Climate have joined several other community organisations who are up in arms about the proposal. Over 2,800 Victorians and counting have backed the calls of Surfers for Climate to end the Offshore Petroleum Acreage Release Process and cease all new drilling for fossil fuels.

Trevor Barker fishes for southern rock lobster out of Apollo Bay Harbour in Victoria. He recalls one year when a reef he consistently fished off at Moonlight Heads was seismic blasted.

“I didn’t get one cray afterwards, but what’s worse, the pots came up completely empty—no bycatch, nothing. Our rock lobster fishery is one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world, and that’s because it is so heavily regulated and monitored. Yet these survey companies come into our fishing grounds and blast away with minimal regulation, even in marine parks that are set aside to protect biodiversity.”

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Markus Nolle from the Apollo Bay Fishermen’s Co-op says, “We should be nurturing our environment to ensure there is more fresh, local seafood for generations to come, not knowingly damaging the oceans for the sake of outdated and unnecessary fossil fuel exploration. Seismic activity on this scale will have a huge impact; it will kill planktonic fauna (a food-chain foundation), displace migratory finfish, and fatally damage other oceanic species. This would not be allowed on the land, so why allow it in the sea?”

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