Statement from Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society on the Diablo Canyon Seismic Testing: Too Much Risk
October 29, 2012
Gray whales are whales that have changed little over the past 600,000 years yet one of the first of the great whales to face extinction. It is a marine mammal with the longest single migration and the most urban whale, passing some of the world’s biggest cities, along some of the most polluted coastlines. In the Pacific, the eastern population of Gray Whales represents a conservation success story; their population is back to its pre-hunting numbers of over 22,000 after almost being on the brink of extinction just 75 years ago. Unfortunately the Atlantic population was not so lucky, and has been extinct for over 200 years. But despite its protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Pacific Gray whale and twenty-four other whale and dolphin species who are found off the coast of California, face many human impacts, including on-going noise pollution. These marine mammals depend on an acoustic environment, we cannot add deafening noise to their aquatic environment; it is unacceptable.
Located along California’s central coast lies the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, an electricity-generating nuclear power plant that sits along Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo county and provides energy to nearly 3 million California residents. Built in the early 1970s along a geological fault line, the power plant has had a long history of controversy with respect to both environmental impacts and residential safety. As recently as 2008, numerous new fault lines running both onshore and offshore to the Diablo Canyon power plant have been found. Combined with news of the devastating 2011 Fukushima earthquake and subsequent power plant failure, concerns have increased over the safety and necessity of the Diablo Canyon power plant.
In an attempt to mitigate concerns, owners of the Diablo Canyon power plant, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), have chosen to mount an extensive seismic testing survey in the hopes of obtaining detailed 3D images of the fault zones near the plant. PG&E plans to submerge underwater air cannons that will detonate blasts of 250 decibels every 15 seconds for several consecutive days. These blasts are equivalent to the detonation of an atomic bomb and will kill or otherwise impact tens of thousands of marine animals including Pacific Gray Whales. Considering the extent to which the marine world uses sound, particularly the twenty-five species of marine mammals that reside within California’s coastal waters, the air cannon blasts will have detrimental effects to animals within 250 square nautical miles of each of the 18 air cannon sites. Whales, dolphins and porpoises that are not killed by the immediate blast will likely suffer slow deaths, as impairment to their extremely sensitive hearing will result in an inability to find food or navigate underwater. I have spent a great deal of time studying and learning about the lives of gray whales with my Ocean Futures Society team. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, these amazing animals have been able to recover and now thrive within California’s waters. Ocean Futures Society in co-production with KQED spent a year filming gray whales for the PBS Special, Gray Whale Obstacle Course. This special offers insight into the lives of these beautiful animals. However, high energy seismic testing poses a huge risk to these whales, and all others that inhabit our coastal waters. Furthermore, the proposed seismic testing risks enormous damage to marine reserves and fisheries along the California coast, which are of economic and conservation importance.
PG&E plans to spend $64 million dollars on seismic testing as part of a plan to investigate the risks of the current fault lines located near the Diablo Canyon power plant. However, the testing will not make the plant any safer. It will only offer more information on the fault lines. Many environmental agencies argue that adequate testing has already been done. The measurements proposed are similar to those used to search for offshore oil reserves, and there is likely pressure from big oil companies to continue onward with these plans. Yet it is time we stop looking at the ocean as an endless supply of nonrenewable resources. Our knowledge of the long-term ecological impacts is poorly understood, and we risk losing valuable components of the ocean ecosystem. Our oceans are our life-support system. When we protect the ocean, we protect ourselves.
The California Coastal Commission is set to vote on PG&E’s request for a permit to begin the seismic testing on Nov. 10th. Please join in our fight to stop this dangerous plan from moving forward.
Oceans of appreciation,