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Seismic blasting plans threaten to disrupt whale migration superhighway in North-west Australia

Seismic blasting plans threaten to disrupt whale migration superhighway in North-west Australia

Australia

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  • Woodside’s seismic blasting to assess fossil fuel gas

    The pristine waters of North-west Australia are home to one of the most remarkable marine phenomena on the planet: the annual migration of humpback whales. Each year, these majestic creatures embark on a journey of thousands of kilometers, traveling from the cold feeding grounds of Antarctica to the warm breeding waters of the Kimberley region. This migration corridor, often called the “whale migration superhighway,” is crucial for the species' survival. However, it is now under threat due to proposed seismic blasting activities in the area.
    
    Gas company Woodside is pushing ahead with the Burrup Hub, the country's most environmentally damaging infrastructure proposal. This extensive gas export project will be situated off Western Australia's North West coast, intersecting marine parks and whale migration routes and endangering the incredible marine biodiversity in these waters.
    
    Woodside plans a seismic blasting to assess fossil fuel gas reserves for its controversial project. Greenpeace's report, Blasting the Ocean: Woodside's dangerous seismic plan, found that Woodside's plans skirt close to a major migration route for pygmy blue whales and the UNESCO-protected Ningaloo Reef.
    
    Plan for seismic blasting close to a whale migration "superhighway" off the coast of North Western Australia poses an unacceptable risk to endangered whale species and could threaten local tourism.
    
    The vast majority of marine life in Australia’s southeast waters is found nowhere else on Earth, including  85% of fish, 95% of mollusks, 90% of echinoderms, and 65% of seaweeds. If we lose them from the southeast, it’s gone from the planet forever.
    
    Seismic blasting uses underwater air cannons to shoot powerful sound waves at the sea floor to locate fossil fuel deposits. The noise is louder than that of a jet plane and can seriously damage the whales' hearing. A deaf whale is a dead whale.
    
    After a series of court cases, in 2023 Woodside was once again been given the all-clear to carry out seismic testing for its massive Scarborough project off the Pilbara coast after an earlier approval was ruled invalid by the Federal Court. The company plans to use blasts of air fired at the ocean floor to identify gas reserves, which helps Woodside know where to extract gas. However, some scientists have raised concerns about its potential to have subtle but critical impacts on ocean life.
    
    The call to protect the whale migration superhighway is growing louder, with conservation groups, scientists, and the public voicing their concerns. It is a call for responsible action, for the recognition of the intrinsic value of our natural world, and for the preservation of a spectacle that has graced the oceans for millennia. The humpback whales’ journey is more than just a migration; it is a testament to the wonder of the natural world, and our responsibility is to ensure that it continues unimpeded for generations to come.

Timelines

2023

Fossil fuel company Woodside Energy’s controversial plan to conduct seismic blasting on endangered whale habitat was approved by the offshore regulator NOPSEMA, just two months after a Federal Court threw out its previous approval. 

2022

Greenpeace Australia Pacific released a report titled “Blasting the Ocean: Woodside’s dangerous seismic plan,” which warns that Woodside’s plans pose an unacceptable risk to endangered whale species and local tourism, especially the pygmy blue whales that migrate along the North West coast of Australia.

2021

Woodside proposes conducting a four-dimensional (4D) baseline marine seismic survey (MSS) over the Scarborough, North Scarborough, and Jupiter gas fields within Commonwealth waters in the Carnarvon Basin.

2020

Woodside Energy Ltd.’s development proposal for the offshore sector of its Scarborough project was approved by Australia’s NOPSEMA following the authority’s assessment of the potential environmental impacts over the project's life.

2019

Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) released Woodside Energy Ltd.’s proposed Scarborough field development plan for public comment.

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