“Leave your oiled hands off our shores,” wrote a protester on a cardboard board on the beach in the Cape Town suburb of Muizenberg on Sunday. Many others rhyme briefly: “To hell with a shell”. Anyone involved in the country’s unique underwater world has been in turmoil since early November: from fishing clubs to environmental protection organizations. Because then the British-Dutch oil company Shell had announced its plans to search for oil off the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape province.
over 300,000 people has since signed a petition against the project, In the Eastern Cape province, where the Wild Coast runs, an operator of 35 petrol stations also changed suppliers and removed all Shell logos due to a boycott by local residents. On Sunday, thousands of protesters in more than 70 places across the country took to beaches to vent their anger at Tel Bahu.
Shell plans to use seismic exploration to discover a 6,000-square-kilometre seafloor off the coast of the Indian Ocean between Durban and east London for an undersea oil deposit. With this method, extremely strong sound waves are generated from a ship by means of an air pulse that systematically travels the area for six months, penetrating kilometers into the ocean floor. The sound cannon fires every ten seconds and can cause enormous damage in the process – ocean creatures rely more on their hearing than their eyes.
There is hardly any clear study to what extent sound waves actually affect animals. Environmentalists fear that whales and dolphins in particular, but also penguins, sharks and other fish, as well as small crustaceans, could be harmed by the seismic explorations. There are three marine protected areas on the Wild Coast. In December, humpback whales migrate north along the coast to warm waters in the Indian Ocean, where they give birth to their young.
On the basis of the reflection of sound waves, conclusions can be drawn about possible oil deposits. The search should begin in a few days, the particular ship concerned is already in South Africa. Shell explains that seismic surveys have been going on for a long time. With observers on board, the company wants to ensure – as stipulated in the measurement rules – that no whales move too close to the boat while the sonic cannon is in action. What effect this has on the reproduction and survival of whales, if they have to avoid familiar areas, is hardly known.
Marine biologists are even more concerned about the possibility that someday oil may actually be produced off the wild coast. This is because of the extremely strong ocean currents in the area, which would make it nearly impossible to stop any oil spill. Agulhas stream is one of these powerful streams. It has 300 times the volume of the Amazon and runs along the coast.
All these fears were not enough to sustain an urgent action for the Eastern Cape’s regional court in Makhanda on Friday, by which two boat clubs and environmental protection organizations Natural Justice and Greenpeace wanted to halt seismic exploration. Judge Avinash Govindji dismissed the complaint with reference to the exploration license already granted in 2014, the expenses already incurred by Shell in preparing for seismic exploration and the financial consequences of the delay in the project. “Weighting the massive financial consequences against potential environmental damage is a thankless task,” he said, but then declared: “Due to the lack of information about the potential for environmental damage,” he decided in Shell’s favor.
However, South African environmentalists do not want to give up. Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said, “Unless we live in a world where people and the planet are above the profits of companies dealing in toxic fossil fuels, we need to undo the disastrous colonial legacy of extractionism.” One must do everything in his power to do so.” From Greenpeace Africa. The next opportunity to do so is on December 14, when a residents’ coalition wants to sue Shell because the group is said to have not informed independent fishermen in advance of their plans.
Recently, the oil giant has withdrawn from a long-planned production project off the Scottish coast. The official justification for the move is that the economic arguments for investment are not strong enough. However, environmentalists and political observers believe that Shell also wants to avoid damage to its image by this decision.
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