THE BLOG
10/03/2013 10:00 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

African Humpback Whales Threatened by Gas Project

Quirimbus Archipelago is a slice of breathtaking heaven on Earth! Yet, sadly our insatiable demand for fossil fuels is set to develop another massive gas field underneath the Indian Ocean along Mozambique's north coast - adjacent to the Quirimbus Archipelago.

There are 31 islands along the north coast of Mozambique partially linked by exquisite sandbars, spectacular coral reefs, thrifty mangrove forests and opulent sea-grass beds all providing crucial habitat supporting abundant marine life.

The archipelago occurs where the South Equatorial Current meets the African coast and the Mtwara-Quirimbas Complex. Its tropical climate has a distinct rainy season lasting from December to April and a drier but cooler season extending from May to September.

Mozambique's ecological land jewels are protected within Quirimbas National Park, which encompasses about 1.8 million acres of coastal rainforests replete with elephants and mangrove trees that grow along the sea's edge amazingly adapted to saltwater, integral for maintaining coastal soils and preventing erosion.

Over the last year or so despicable poachers have slaughtered 85 elephants within the national park. A voracious Asian demand for ivory has attracted a sophisticated network of well-paid informants and poachers better armed than park rangers. The elephants, like those of neighboring Zimbabwe and Tanzania are being driven to extinction by these thugs representing organized crime syndicates.

Just off Mozambique's north coast and extending for a couple hundred miles toward the Tanzanian border are verdant sea-grass beds home for splendid sea turtles, magnificent dugongs and some of the richest most diverse coral reefs on the globe. There are easily over 350 species of fish including Napoleon wrasse, pufferfish, bumphead's and parrotfish that inhabit these reefs.

The Quirimbas Archipelago and its astounding coral islands are recognized as a key seascape with biodiversity of global importance; that's why UNESCO named these stunning examples of diverse African biota a World Heritage Site.

At dawn 'pink-fingers' claw their way across the sky as the sun's long red rays unveil a canvas of unique cloud formations. Uninhabited islands are dotted with palms and squat baobabs -- filled with birdlife.

This is also where the majestic 35-ton and 55-foot long Southern Hemisphere humpback whales congregate, breach, dance, mate and roam in the warm tropical waters amongst frolicking bottlenose- and humpback-dolphins. This region is of paramount importance as a nursery area for these surreal cetaceans.

At the northern end of the archipelago in Palma Bay, Italy's ENI and Texas-based Anadarko intend on developing one of the largest remaining marine gas fields on Earth. That field contains about 180 trillion cubic feet of liquid natural gas (LNG) or the equivalent in emissions of 9.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide - that's the entire emissions from all transportation - worldwide - for about 16 months.

The gas facility includes an onshore complex of loading jetties for exporting the gas, storage tanks and a gas liquefaction plant, which is scheduled for operation by 2018. This enormous gas project will destroy mangrove forests; its 100 wells will also contaminate the seabed. Waste from lubricants used on seafloor drill bits is highly toxic. And laying pipes along the Indian Ocean floor will rip through corals and uproot sea-grass beds. Furthermore, sediments from this deleterious drilling process will smoother corals, destroying precious marine life habitat.

Oil and gas sonar exploration using multi-beam echo-sounders searching for every last drop of gas and oil nearby in Loza Lagoon, northwest Madagascar is lethal for dolphins and whales - it shatters their eardrums, causing fatal mass stranding.

The endangered migratory humpback's that visit Quirimbus Archipelago from June to December are indeed in harms way. It's not only the noise from exploration and drilling, but also collisions between huge LNG transportation freighters and eventually export gas ships traveling to and from Palma Bay that are a valid concern for increased mortality rates of humpback mother's and their calves.

As Earthlings attempt to extract all remaining carbon fuel deposits and burn them -- it's not only the air that's being polluted; the oceans too, are quickly becoming toxic. And as Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society correctly says: "If the oceans die, we die."

Please support the conservation work of Sea Shepherd.

Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and co-author of "Life, The Wonder of it All."