South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Film highlights dangers of man-made ocean noise
August 17th, 2016

By Clayton Stairs

Over the last few decades, man-made noise in the world’s oceans has increased substantially, causing harm to sea creatures, including whales and dolphins, that depend on sound for feeding, mating, socializing and security.

That was the message of a new documentary film called “Sonic Seas,” presented by Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, a volunteer grassroots group of citizens known as SODA, and Oceana, a group dedicated to ocean conservation.

The groups presented the movie on Aug. 10 at the Waccamaw Library in Pawleys Island while also offering attendees literature and giving them a chance to sign a petition against seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean, which will go to President Barack Obama. There will be other free screenings in the area through the end of the month.

The film focuses on the impact of man-made noise in the ocean, including noise from large cargo ships, military vessels and seismic air gun testing. It shares stories and reflections about marine life from scientists, environmental activists and even celebrities like musician Sting.

Despite a five-year reprieve for allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, seismic air gun testing could be permitted later this year, according to SODA members. The blasts, which occur every 15 seconds, carry the force of dynamite and are so loud they can be heard across ocean waters for 2,500 miles.

“It’s a back door to reopening the debate on drilling,” said the retired Rev. Jim Watkins of the SODA Leadership Team. “Applications for seismic testing are pending approval in Washington, D.C. The oil and gas industry is pushing this strategy to help them restart a push toward offshore drilling. We urge people to come see this film and learn more.”

Peg Howell, a Pawleys Island resident with a petroleum engineering degree who is also a SODA team leader, agreed.

“These blasts cause risks to marine life,” Howell said “They carry serious risks for disrupting the fishing industry — part of our economic base — and they don’t really prove the existence of oil and gas reserves.”

She said recent research has shown negative impacts from seismic blasting on ocean ecosystems.

“Endangered whales and sea turtles can be harmed,” she said. “The big question is ‘Why do it?’ Coastal residents and elected officials in over 200 Atlantic coastal communities say drilling and seismic blasting will hurt our economic future.”

Some of the points Howell made during a short presentation after the movie include:

• Seismic testing, or airgun blasting, is the first step before exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas;

• 130,000 marine mammals would be harmed by seismic testing;

• Politicians, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), say they support seismic testing because they want to know what is out there, but seismic testing will not “tell you what’s out there;”

• Drilling would have negative impacts for economics, infrastructure, the environment (since oil spills and accidents happen routinely); and

• The U.S. is already energy-independent and now exporting crude oil;

Donna Grimes, a Murrells Inlet resident who attended the Aug. 10 event, said it was enlightening.

She said she was most disturbed to learn that the seismic testing companies don’t share the information they gather from airgun blasts.

“We, the public, should know what is going on,” she said.

Lew Aufdemort, also of Murrells Inlet, said he was in the U.S. Navy and served on submarines. He said he has heard, firsthand, the noise generated by ship traffic and military operations, including active sonar to pick up long-distance targets.

“I understand that is the technology they have right now,” he said. “But, they need to come up with alternative methods.”

Jessie White, an attorney with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, said the message of “Sonic Sea” is powerful.

“I am empathetic to marine life,” she said. “I try to think of things from their perspective and what humans are doing has significant impacts on them.”

Dates and locations for other free screenings of the movie are:

• Thursday, Aug. 18, at 10 a.m. at Surfside Beach Library, 410 Surfside Drive, Surfside Beach

• Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 4:45 p.m. at North Myrtle Beach Library, 910 First Avenue South, North Myrtle Beach

• Wednesday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. at Base Recreation Center, 800 Gabreski Lane, Myrtle Beach

The movie trailer may be seen here: Learn more about SODA activities at:

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