Driving Maui’s to extinction | The Jackal

25 Jun 2014

Driving Maui’s to extinction

If you happened to watch parliaments question time yesterday, you would have seen a particularly arrogant display of bravado from our Prime Minister, John Key. Not satisfied with just calling the potential extinction of the Maui's dolphin a "load of mumbo-jumbo," Key also claimed that the Greens wanted to "close Taranaki down" because they’re opposed to the endangered dolphins habitat being opened up for oil exploration.

Of course such claims are a complete straw-man argument, with neither the Greens nor Labour proposing that existing oil wells in the area need to be closed down. They have on the most part taken a very pragmatic approach to the situation.

Clearly Key's statement was designed to try and make the Greens look extreme, when their position on this matter is anything but. Not only did the Prime Minister once again mislead the house of representatives, he’s ignoring the fact that further oil exploration and drilling in the Maui's dolphin's habitat will have an adverse impact and likely cause the marine mammals extinction. None of that seemed to matter to our Prime Minister though and unfortunately he was simply point scoring over the dead bodies of Maui's dolphins.

Likewise, the Minister for Energy and Resources, Simon Bridges, isn't accepting the truth of the matter. He's at pains to ignore the fact that this is a new area within the Maui's habitat that's been opened up for exploration and comparing it to existing wells is simply not appropriate. Unfortunately because no proper studies have been conducted concerning Maui's dolphins mortality rates, no accurate figures are available to show any association with the oil and gas industry. In fact necropsy reports of dead dolphins usually don't see the light of day for some reason. I wonder why?

When Simon Bridges claims; "there is no record of the species being harmed by the activity," that's because nobody has been keeping a record. To document the deaths of dolphins is difficult enough, but to associate those deaths to pollution from the oil and gas industry is even harder. That's because unless a dolphin washes up covered in oil, a proper autopsy needs to be conducted to determine the cause of death. Without those results being made public, Bridges can basically claim whatever he likes.

Being that seismic testing and oil pollution have an adverse effect on a dolphin’s ability to hunt for food, the usual cause of death is found to be starvation. Most reports simply state: starvation, and don't document any related causes. Another adverse effect of the oil industry pollution on marine mammals is dolphins being stillborn. However the association with oil pollution is hard to prove, therefore the industry and their political mouthpieces have an easy excuse for continuing their environmentally damaging practices.

As you may know oil exploration uses seismic booms which have been documented to cause serious harm to marine mammals. However there's also the adverse effect from waste created from drilling new wells which is simply dumped into the ocean. Ignoring the science concerning these issues isn't acceptable when we're talking about species extinction, so here's a few excerpts from various studies that Simon Bridges and his oil industry masters should be aware of.

This 2005 study by Nkosi Luyeye (PDF) which is concerned with the reduction in fish catch rates as a result of seismic survey activity outlines exactly why further seismic activity in the Maui's dolphin’s habitat will have an additional detrimental effect:

Unlike humans and other terrestrial animals, marine mammals rely on sound instead of sight as their primary sense. Dolphins, whales and seals utilise their sense of hearing to locate prey, avoid predators, choose migration routes , and to communicate across long distances. The noise associated with seismic surveys can affect the ability of these animals to detect natural underwater sounds, thereby disrupting these critical activities.

Researchers have also observed signs of physical stress such as startle responses in humpback whales while seismic surveys were being conducted many miles away  (Lokkeborg, 1993).

Scientists believe that pods of whales that include calves are at serious risk from seismic activities due to their need to utilize critical habitats for feeding and resting. If seismic surveys continually displace whales from these important areas, declined population levels may result.

The other issue here is that some chemicals added to drilling fluids to solve certain problems are toxic to marine animals. Unlike cuttings piles, where they mainly accumulate under the platforms, drilling mud can be distributed over vast distances. The chemicals in this drilling waste include but are not limited to diesel fuel, chromate salts, surfactants and paraformaldehyde biocide.

Components of such waste can either diffuse into the atmosphere, adsorb onto and settle out onto the bottom sediments, disperse due to water currents, or be taken up and metabolised by both pelagic and benthic marine organisms (Holdway, 2002).

This study from 2010 by the Heriot-Watt University entitled: Studies on the Impact of a Water-based Drilling Mud Weighting Agent (Barite) on some Benthic Invertebrates (PDF) clearly outlines the adverse effects on marine life. It is mainly concerned with one particular byproduct amongst many produced in the drilling process:

The presence of barite within the benthic boundary layer could have adverse effects towards marine communities, especially non-motile suspension feeding bivalves.

The combination of reduced gill functionality, extra energy consumption from the production of excess pseudo faeces and the possible interference with food reaching the mouth is the most likely reason for the early mortality observed in animals exposed to suspended barite.

Clearly drilling and fracking for oil will have an adverse effect on the marine environment in general and these negative consequences will have a knock on effect right up the food chain. With this study clearly showing an adverse effect on fish numbers from oil drilling, what exactly are the Maui's dolphin's supposed to eat? They will be forced to move to another area or starve.

These are scientifically accepted facts that Simon Bridges, John Key and the rest of the Tories who place profit before the environment should be aware of. Although existing wells have the potential to leak oil, the main concern here is with any new exploration and drilling in the habitat of the endangered Maui’s dolphin. National is simply arguing from ignorance and that’s not a position they should find themselves in come election day.