Oceana blasts seismic testing plans off Spain’s Costa Brava

Powerful airgun blasts have been shown to cut fish catches by up to 50% and permanently damage the hearing of iconic species, like whales

Press Release Date: February 15, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

This type of exploration is the first step towards deepwater drilling, which has a potential for incredible damage

Oceana, the international marine conservation organization, blasts the Spanish ministry of Energy, Industry and Tourism for providing permits to UK-based “Capricorn Spain Limited” for seismic testing, which has been shown to harm fisheries – in some cases cutting catches by as much as half[i] – and thereby threatening commercial and recreational fishing. The exploration area off Costa Brava is home to many iconic, threatened and protected species including sperm whales, sea turtles and dolphins, which have been shown to suffer hearing loss and displacement as a result of this type of testing. 

“We don’t have to tell you what could happen should an oil spill occur – we all remember DeepWater Horizon, and it is not the future we want for Costa Brava,” stated Xavier Pastor, Executive Director for Oceana in Europe. “But what many don’t know, and what is rarely discussed is the incredible damage caused by seismic testing, before any drilling has even begun. Fisheries in the area will decline as stocks are displaced and eggs and larvae are damaged, while protected whales, dolphins and turtles will be driven away from their feeding and nursing grounds and in worst cases suffer from organ damage and even death.”

For almost three months, a seismic airgun – used to detect oil and gas pockets under the sea floor – will send a blast of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the seafl­oor from a large boat. The airgun will produce an extremely loud noise that is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, as it covers the 11,519 km2 of the survey area in the Golfo de Leon, off the coasts of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. The exploration area, bigger than Cataluña itself, is located 13km away from the coast of Cap de Creus at its closest north point and 30kms from Menorca island at its southern point.

It is absurd that these permits have been approved – particularly in such a biodiverse area so close to one of Spain’s most iconic coasts”, said Silvia García, marine scientist with Oceana. “Fishermen and tourism operators should be outraged that once again, short term economic interests have been put ahead of our country’s natural heritage, particularly when so many cleaner, less damaging alternatives exist, including wind energy.”

The exploration area also boarders a marine area that is to be protected under the LIFE+ INDEMARES project – funded by the Ministry of the Environment and the European Commission through taxpayer money from Spanish citizens. While the airgun blasts will not directly occur in this area, sound will easily travel across the limits and affect wildlife. Furthermore, should oil be detected and a spill occur, damage could be irreversible and threaten the coastal communities.

i Scientific synthesis on the impacts of underwater noise on marine and coastal biodiversity and habitats. Report by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, Convention on Biological Diversity (United Nations Environment Programme).