Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whale Deaths and Oil Exploration in Ghana

The surge in the death of marine mammals, particularly whales, should serve as a wake-up call because it signals the gradual breakdown of sustainability of the marine ecosystem and if not unraveled would result in a negative outcome for biodiversity, livelihoods and food security.

The situation at hand far exceeds the predictions of the environmental impact assessment of the Jubilee field. The impact assessment predicted minor residual impacts on marine mammals and proposed some measures to counter the effect. According to residence whale deaths were averagely encountered once in every five years but with the advent of oil exploration eleven (11) whales were reported within three years (2007-2010) to have died and washed ashore in the Western Region alone and recently four more have been discovered ashore within a week.

Around the world, energy companies are exploring for oil and gas using seismic airguns in sensitive, wildlife filled waters. The issue about seismic air guns in oil exploration is that the sound waves which extend for hundreds of miles bounce off the ocean floor indicate likely areas for oil. It is the most severe acoustic insult to the marine environment short of naval warfare. This sonic barrage can interfere with a whale’s ability to feed, breed, navigate, communicate and avoid predators — in short, to survive. If a whale goes deaf, it can’t survive. And repeated blasts (100,000 times stronger than a jet engine) can impair hearing easily. The blasts can drive whales to abandon their habitats, go silent and cease foraging over vast areas. It can cause permanent hearing loss, injury and death for whales.

The death of these marine mammals coincides with the commencement of oil extraction and has followed trends with oil exploration around the world. Like their counterparts in many countries that have experienced this negative phenomenon the government agencies responsible for curtailing this ongoing disaster has claimed there are no empirical basis to establish a link between the death of the whales and oil production.

According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) there is no question that sonar injures and kills whales. Evidence of the danger caused by these systems surfaced dramatically in 2000, when whales of four different species stranded themselves on beaches in the Bahamas. Although the Navy initially denied responsibility, the US government's investigation established that mid-frequency sonar caused the stranding. After the incident, the area's population of whales nearly disappeared, leading researchers to conclude that they either abandoned their habitat or died at sea. Similar cases have occurred in the Canary Islands, Greece, Madeira, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and other sites around the globe.

If my argument makes sense, then we have clearly made our choice. We cannot hide behind the curtain of ignorance and claim we know not the cause of the impending extinction of this vital species in our ecosystem. 

Written by:
Enoch Ofosu
Water Resources Specialist

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