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Nearly 300 000 sq km of prime fishing ground on West and South Coasts to be bombarded by 2D and 3D seismic surveys for 5 months

Please register as an Interested and Affected Party (I&AP) with SLR at and place your comment no later than 12 Dec.

These seismic surveys will take place in South African richest waters

The Reconnaissance Permit area is approximately 290 299 km2 in extent. The western extent of the permit area would be located more than 370 km offshore. 

Project – environment interaction points on the West and South Coasts, illustrating the location of seabird and seal colonies and resident whale populations in relation to the proposed 2D (red polygon) and 3D (green polygons) survey areas. Proposed MPAs identified by Operation Phakisa and proposed EBSAs (as of 23 Oct 2018) are also shown

The full report is available at :

The SLR contact where you’ll place your request or comment is Nicholas Arnott: 

Studies show that fish catch rates are significantly lowered by noise from air guns indicating that increasing levels of human-produced noise in the ocean can significantly and adversely impact the food supply, employment and economies of a nation. A study commissioned by the Namibian government revealed that an 84% decline in tuna catches (650 tonnes in 2013 from 4,046 tonnes in 2011) was a result of an increase in seismic activity from oil and gas in the Orange River Basin driving tuna from their normal migratory routes[xiii].McCauley, Fewtrell and Popper (2003) found that the ears of fish exposed to an operating airgun sustained extensive damage to their auditory hair cells (sendory epithelia). The damage was severe, with no hair cell regeneration 58 days after air-gun exposure. This damage was seen at exposure levels that might occur several kilometers away from the airguns. 

Effects of 2D and 3D seismic surveys on fish can range from serious injury at short ranges, where seismic noise has deafened fish with no recovery after 58 days[i]; massive hearing trauma in four squid species [ii], increased stress signals[iii],[iv],[v],[vi]; disruption in schooling and migration[vii]; disruption of homing or orientation[viii]; decreased feeding efficiency[ix]; and reduced catch rates of 40-80% in areas more than 30 km from seismic surveys[x],[xi],[xii].

Seismic surveys can kill large swathes of plankton, the basis of the marine food chain, up to 1.2km from the sound source. Within the study area, zooplankton abundance dropped by two-thirds. Furthermore, all larval krill, the primary food source of whales, were killed (McCauley et al.,2017). The Offshore Deep Western Orange Basin Block covers nearly 37335 km2 in a current moving on average at 5 to 8m/s could potentially create massive destruction of zooplankton. McCauley et alwarn of the ramifications for ocean ecosystem structure and health considering a significant component of zooplankton communities comprises the larval stages of many commercial fisheries species and healthy populations of fish, top predators and marine mammals are not possible without viable planktonic productivity. 

The long term view of extraction on local fisheries has to be considered in the EIA. Offshore oil and natural gas activity poses an unacceptable risk of serious harm to marine life at the species and population levels, the full extent of which will not be understood until long after the harm occurs.

Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) submitted an application for a Reconnaissance Permit to the Petroleum Agency SA (PASA) in order to apply to undertake a multi-client speculative two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) seismic surveys in a number of petroleum licence blocks off the South and West Coast of South Africa.

Actual survey commencement would ultimately depend on a permit award date and the availability of a survey vessel. Furthermore, the duration of the surveys would be dependent on whether the 2D and 3D surveys are run concurrently or at a different times. It is, however, anticipated that the surveys would take in the order of five months to complete. Should the permit be awarded, it is anticipated that the proposed surveys could commence within Q1 or Q2 2019, with the balance of the survey resuming at the end of December 2019. 

SLR has been appointed to compile the required Environmental Management Programme (EMP) for submission to PASA.

[i]McCauley, R. D., Fewtrell, J., and Popper, A. N. 2003. High intensity anthropogenic sound damages fish ears. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.113, 638–642. 

[ii]André, M., Johansson, T., Delory, E., van der Schaar, M., Morell, M. 2007. Foraging on squid, the sperm whale mid-range sonar. Journal of the Marine Biological Association UK87, 59–67. 

[iii]Buscaino, F., Filiciotto, G., Buffa, G., Bellante, A.,  Di Stefano, V.,  Assenza, A.,  Fazio, F., Caola, G.,  Mazzola S.,  2010, Impact of an acoustic stimulus on the motility and blood parameters in European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.)and gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata L.)Marine Environmental Research.69, 136-142.

[iv]Graham A. L., Cooke S. J. (2008). The effects of noise disturbance from various recreational boating activities common to inland waters on the cardiac physiology of a freshwater fish, the largemouth bass(Micropterus salmoides). Aquat. Conserv. 18, 1315–1324 .

[v]Wysocki, L. E. , Ladich, F. Dittami,, J. 2006. Noise, stress, and cortisol secretion in teleost fishes. Biological Conservation128, 501–8. 

[vi]Santulli A., Modica A., Messina C., Ceffa L., Curatolo A., Rivas G., et al. (1999). Biochemical responses of European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax L.) to the stress induced by off shore experimental seismic prospecting. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 38, 1105–1114 .

[vii]Sarà, G., Dean, J., D’Amato, D., Buscaino, G., Oliveri, A., Genovese, S., et al. 2007. Effect of boat noise on the behaviour of bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus in the Mediterranean. The Marine Ecology Progress Series. 331, 243–253

[viii]Simpson, S. D., Meekan, M. G., Larsen, N. J., McCauley, R. D., Jeffs, A. 2010. Behavioral plasticity in larval reef fish: orientation is influenced by recent acoustic experiences, Behavioral Ecology, 21, 5, 1098–1105.

[ix]Purser J., Radford A. N. (2011). Acoustic noise induces attention shifts and reduces foraging performance in three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). PLoS One, 6, e17478. 

[x]Engås A., Løkkeborg S., Ona E. and A.V. Soldal (1996). Effects of seismic shooting on local abundance and catch rates of cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 53, 2238-2249

[xi]McCauley R.D. (1994). Seismic surveys. In: Swan, J.M., Neff, J.M., Young, P.C. (Eds.). Environmental implications of offshore oil and gas development in Australia – The findings of an Independent Scientific Review. APEA, Sydney, Australia, p. 695.

[xii]Turnpenny, A. W. H. , Nedwell, J. R . 1994. The effects on marine fish, diving mammals and birds of underwater sound generated by seismic surveys. FARL Report Reference: FCR 089/94

[xiii]Shinovene I (2013) Govt fears tuna depletion as oil and gas exploration chase fish away, The Nambian, Nambia (25 November 2013) at: =1 


Stone, C.J., Tasker, M.L., 2006. The effects of seismic airguns on cetaceans in UK waters. J. Cetac. Res. Manage. 8, 255–263.

McCauley, R.D., Fewtrell, J., Popper, A.N., 2003. High intensity anthropogenic sound damages fish ears. J. Acoust. Soc. Am.

D. McCauley, Robert & Day, Ryan & Swadling, Kerrie & Fitzgibbon, Quinn & Watson, Reg & Semmens, Jayson. (2017). Widely used marine seismic survey air gun operations negatively impact zooplankton. Nature Ecology and Evolution

Hohn, A. A., Rotstein, D. S., Harms, C. A., Southall, B. L. 2006. Report on marine mammal unusal mortality event UMESE0501Sp: Multispecies mass stranding of pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and dwarf sperm whales (Kogia sima) in North Carolina on 15–16 January 2005. NOAA Technical Memorandum. 222.

Peterson SL., Phillips RA., Ryan PG., Underhill LG. 2008. Albatross overlap with fisheries in the Benguela Upwelling System: implications for conservation and management. Endangered Species Research5:117–127. 

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