Hearing a lot about Shell and the Wild Coast? An environmentalist breaks down what it all means

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Marine life will be affected by Shell's blasting, environmentalists say
Marine life will be affected by Shell's blasting, environmentalists say
PHOTO: GALLO IMAGES/Danita Delimont

The placards have been very clear. South Africans are not impressed with Shell after reports that the petroleum giant was seeking to do oil exploration in the Wild Coast. 

There have been protests, there's an online petition with over 400 000 signatures and the noise is growing.  

This is despite a judgment from the Makhanda High Court dismissing an urgent application to stop the drilling.

Environmentalist Sinegugu Zukulu is the program manager at Sustaining the Wild Coast, a nonprofit company and he says there are several reasons why Shell should not be allowed to proceed with their plans.

In simple terms, Sinegugu says, the South African government has allowed Shell to look for oil under the ocean floor.

“They will shoot airguns deep underground which will produce waves and vibrations will return and all this will tell them whether or not there is gas or oil underground. This will be done every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for a period of about five or six months,” he says.

Sinegugu says the concerns for this are both scientific and non-scientific.

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“When these waves and vibrations are happening they will endanger marine living organisms. Species like dolphins and whales use sound to communicate even for things such as mating. These vibrations will interrupt the natural sounds that should be happening because the blasting will be loud.

"The other reason is that coastal communities will be affected because they depend on marine life. Some for sustenance and others commercially. Allowing this to continue will also disregard their livelihoods."

If the oil is found, Sinegugu says, the drilling will start and the next thing that will happen will be oil spills.

"Globally, there are not less than 300 oil spills a year. The ocean is not only a source of life for the organisms that live in it, but it is also a source of entertainment. If there are oil spills it will also affect tourism and that has a direct impact on the bread and butter of those who live in the coastal communities.

"Traditional or religious groups who use the ocean to connect with their ancestors will also not be able to use the ocean if there are oil spills."

Sinegugu says the carbon emissions from this also reverse the gains made in South Africa's fight against air pollution.

"If Shell is allowed to continue, it will increase carbon emissions which are not good for the environment," he adds.

AmaMpondo King Zanozuko Sigcau says Shell has failed to engage with communities.

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"We are only hearing this in the news. No one came to us as the people living in these coastal communities to tell us about any proposals and give us the pros and cons.

"At face value, we obviously are not against any development that will benefit our people. But if what Shell wants to do is going to destroy the oceans economy, tourism, the environment or the people who live near the ocean, then we are against it."

King Zanozuko says if Shell had gone to the Great Place, then they would have called a community meeting so that locals can ask and hear for themselves how they or their livelihoods would be affected.

"But now what we are seeing are conversations about us yet no one is including us."

The seismic survey will be from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns. The survey area is more than 20km from the coast at its closest point, with water depths ranging from 700m to 3 000m, and it covers 6 011 square kilometres.

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