Staff Report for The Island Connection
On February 28, South Carolina Environmental Law Project, on behalf of sixteen South Carolina coastal communities and small businesses, is heightening efforts to prevent seismic airgun surveying that stands to devastate the Palmetto State’s thriving, multi-billion dollar tourism, recreation and fishing industries.
SCELP filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in Federal District Court in Charleston, asserting that seismic blasting will cause irreparable harm and is contrary to the public interest.
Seismic airgun surveying is a precursor to drilling off our shores, which every coastal community along the state, from North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island, has opposed. The blasting process sets off extremely loud, continuous and damaging levels of noise that could deafen, injure or kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other iconic marine life. It causes massive damage to zooplankton, the base of the oceanic food chain, and dramatically reduces the catch rates for commercial and recreational fishers.
When SCELP filed its initial lawsuit on Dec. 11, 2018 in Federal District Court, it contested the validity of five incidental harassment authorizations issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service that allow seismic companies to harm and harass of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals.
The sixteen municipalities that SCELP is representing, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Port Royal, Beaufort, Edisto Beach, Seabrook Island, Kiawah Island, Folly Beach, James Island, Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Awendaw, Pawleys Island, Briarcliffe Acres and North Myrtle Beach, are concerned about the economic and environmental impacts.
The South Carolina Small Business Chamber, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, points to the fact that seismic blasts drive away fish, whales and dolphins that help support the fishing and tourism industries along the coast.
Moving forward with explorations will have grave consequences for our beloved coastal ecosystems, which is why SCELP has asked Judge Richard Gergel to block companies from initiating seismic tests in search of oil and natural gas deposits off the South Carolina coast until he can hear and rule on the merits of the case.
“The economic damage from seismic surveying for offshore oil starts on the first air gun blast,” said Frank Knapp Jr., President/ CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. “The destruction from that first blast and all the subsequent blasts can never be undone. That’s why it is imperative that seismic surveys not start while the legal process is ongoing.”
“As Mayor, I recognize the value of our military and retirement community, and our attraction as a tourist destination, which will be put at risk by the proposed seismic blasting activities. I am aware that the Department of Defense opposes seismic testing when put forth in President Obama’s fiveyear plan for energy exploration which was in the end withdrawn by that administration,” said Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling.
He continued, “Our economy is built on the value of our natural assets, specifically the abundant opportunities for recreation and observation of marine life, alone with recreational, commercial and sustenance fisheries. Tourists come here especially to observe marine mammals and our businesses depend on our healthy and vibrant population of marine life, including dolphins and sea turtles. Our fishermen depend on the ability to catch fish in waters off our shores, and commercial fishing still supports the livelihood for many families, In addition, we have businesses that provide fishing excursions and commercial charters that take people from one of our three marinas into the City into waters off our shores. We have major seafood operations that distribute nearly all locally caught seafood throughout the State and beyond. And we have boat dealers who are dependent upon these businesses, as well as an estimated 10,000 plus recreational boaters and three marinas within the City that serve local and transient boats.”
“The members of the Gullah/ Geechee Sea Island Coalition receive funds to continue their mission through offering ecotourism and cultural tourism tours, as well as providing education presentations to various local and tourists groups. Approximately 75% of our work is reliant on the tourism industry,” said Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and a native of St. Helena Island.
She added, “The members of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition are tremendously concerned about the impacts the proposed seismic testing will have on the ecology of our fisheries habitat, including the consequences of many species being displaced because of the activity. To our knowledge, seismic gun testing will change the ecological balance of the waterway in which it is done. This will cause certain ocean species to migrate away from the coast of our Sea Islands.”
“The coastal municipalities and small business chamber rely on the health and vitality of the marine ecosystem to support the quality of life and livelihood of their residents, as well as their local tourism and fisheries economies. They have very real, scientifically-supported concerns about how seismic blasting will harm marine life, which in turn will harm tourism, recreational and commercial fisheries, and the quality of life of their citizens,” said Amy Armstrong, executive director of SCELP.