Imagine this: Someone moves into your neighborhood and, every 10 seconds, fires off an airgun that's louder than a jet engine. And it goes on for weeks or months at a time. It's painful and debilitating, so loud that some of your neighbors go deaf, others die.
If you're a whale, dolphin or sea turtle living off the Atlantic Coast, the Obama administration has just made that nightmare a reality.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened up offshore waters from Delaware to Florida to oil and gas exploration. I'm sure that's good news for the oil and gas industry (which already gets more than $4 billion in tax credits and subsidies from the U.S. government) but thousands of marine animals will pay a very terrible price.
In approving this step in exploring for oil, the Obama administration greenlighted a controversial technique for conducting seismic surveys: blasting ultra-loud noiseguns that send sound waves through the water and help identify where the oil and gas might be. But there's a problem. These guns generate some of the loudest human sounds in the oceans short of explosives. They can reach more than 250 decibels (a jet engine is around 140 decibels), causing hearing loss in marine mammals like whales and dolphins and disrupting rich communities of wildlife under water, where sound is magnified. Such painful explosions of noise can disturb essential behaviors like feeding and breeding over vast distances, cause communication problems between individual whales and dolphins and even reduce catch rates of commercial fish.
Sometimes these super-loud noises are merely painful, other times they can cause animals to go deaf or even die.
The government has acknowledged these noise blasts will hurt 138,000 marine mammals, including some of the last remaining Atlantic right whales on Earth (there are only about 500 left in the wild).
The Obama administration is pushing ahead anyway. Of course, it isn't just the nightmarish consequences of this noise pollution that makes this plan wrong. We know drilling along the Atlantic Coast will mean a higher risk for oil spills, more polluted beaches and waters, more industrial equipment and fewer pristine places for wildlife and people. Additionally, opening these waters to drilling will deepen our climate crisis-- the government just increased the estimate of how much oil and gas is under the Atlantic Ocean to 4.72 billion barrels of oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of gas.
But for the moment, I find it hard to forgive the simple act of approving a plan setting in motion such a horrible and painful fate for so many sea creatures across so many miles.
Some neighbors we turned out to be.
Follow Miyoko Sakashita on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EndangeredOcean