The Impact of Off-Shore Drilling

When I do research for a writing project such as this, I imagine myself as a wide-eyed child learning about his world. This project originated as I was remembering such television shows such as Flipper, the Free Willie movies, and videos of whales crashing through ocean waves. The question came to me what would happen to these creatures.

The Learning Started

Tiny zooplankton, like these crustaceans, is an important food source for larger ocean animals.
Photo Credit: Credit: NOAA Photo Library

The term zooplankton describes any animal that can’t swim against current and drifts on the sea. There are 7000 species. The most well known is Krill. These shrimp-like creatures feed baleen whales, fish, and seabirds.

There are species of plankton that begin life floating as something but later evolved into something entirely different. Baby fish, shellfish, and Black Marlin. The Black Marlin can weigh as much as a thousand pounds and accelerate to 80 miles per hour. There are siphonophores which are drifting invertebrates that can grow a hundred feet long. Whales, dolphins, turtles, fish, and snorkelers are called nekton. These animals can float against the current.

Most humans do not think of plankton let alone their importance zooplankton are hard to relate too. None of the 7000 species are cuddly like dogs, cats, or long-eared bunny rabbits. Some don’t even have a face, but they have worth.  These little are lunch for anchovies, herring, and sardines which feed bigger fish, marine mammals, and sharks. Without the foundation of the food chain, the more massive sea creatures would not live either.

For oil and gas to be found the searchers plan to use seismic air guns would blast compressed air into the seabed which would kill significant amounts of zooplankton. The scientist has evidence that airgun blasts affect other animals even when what the blasts are set at a lower level frequency.  The evidence shows that blasting affects communication, feeding, and breeding of whales.  One question remains to be answered: What about the displacement and reduction of the catch rates of popular and commercially important species.

Because the evidence remains unclear what the far-reaching effects of airgun blasting on zooplankton. So in March 2015, the much-needed tests were performed off the southern coast of Tasmania. Before, during and after the tests nets full of zooplankton were collected. Before the trial, 19% of the zooplankton were found dead of natural causes. After the tests, the death toll was at 32%, and this included baby krill and Ceopods which are crustaceans. The death toll stayed high at least a kilometer away from the boat. It turns out the test although noteworthy did not prove impact.

Looking Into the Future

If we assume that seismic testing does kill plankton, then environmentalist must hope high-level predators would be drawn in first. If the zooplankton doesn’t bounce back quickly, then the result would be starvation for the countries that rely on the ocean for food. Further testing on computers have predicted that zooplankton will bounce back quickly in the tropic, but their rate of recovery north of the equator is unknown.

The concerns over the testing off the Tasmanian coast can be found elsewhere. While there are different species of plankton, they share physical similarities and are all affected by seismic airgun blasts.

Zooplankton being at the bottom of the food chain feed whales and fish. Of the commercial species, lobsters and oysters start as larvae drifting in the currents. Commercial fishermen will suffer if the proposed air gun blasting does decrease these favorite foods.

Finally, we should consider this “oil and gas were once considered zooplankton adrift at sea and as the new study shows air gun blasting to find these fuels may threaten the very creatures that made them.


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