[MARMAM] Update and continuing concerns regarding Incidental Harassment Authorisation for L-DEO marine seismic survey in SE Asia

Christina MacFarquhar chrisgagele at gmail.com
Thu Apr 23 09:58:57 PDT 2009


Dear all

Further to previous posts on this issue, in February this year a number of
NGOs and individuals wrote to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS) expressing concern over the proposed transect lines and noise impact
mitigation measures for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute (L-DEO) marine
seismic survey in the waters of southeast Asia, planned to take place from
March 21 to July 14, 2009. (See below for links to comments and other
documents mentioned here.)

On March 31, the NMFS granted LDEO an Incidental Harassment Authorization
(IHA) for this survey, for which LDEO had provided a Supplemental
Environmental Assessment (SEA) on March 27.

Several issues have arisen from this new version of the seismic survey
plans. First, the SEA and the IHA do reflect consideration of the concerns
expressed during the comment period, and some changes have been made to
reduce potential impacts. For those changes that will potentially reduce
impacts on marine mammals in the region, credit is due to all who took the
time to express their opinions and concerns, and to L-DEO and the NMFS for
making those changes.

The changes include rescheduling to reduce impacts on humpback whales
wintering and calving in the Babuyan Islands and the re-routing of the
transect lines through the Taiwan Strait.

Regarding the latter, transect lines along the west coast of Taiwan are to
be moved offshore by ~ 20 km to protect the Critically Endangered population
of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (condition 10 (w) in the IHA), and surveying
has been limited to waters greater than 150 km from the mainland side of the
Taiwan Strait “to reduce potential for effects on Western Pacific gray
whales, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (*Sousa chinensis*), and finless
porpoises” (condition 10 (u)). Furthermore, seismic operations are limited
to waters deeper than 50 m (condition 10 (aa)). These conditions effectively
prevent L-DEO from surveying the majority of the Taiwan Strait, most of
which is between 120 km and 180 km wide and typically narrower than 170 km
throughout the waters adjacent to the ETS humpback dolphin habitat, and some
of which is shallower than 50 m at a distance of more than 20 km from the
Taiwan coast.

Noting, however, that the second leg of the survey, which includes a
transect line through the Taiwan Strait, is still scheduled to go ahead on
May 3 according to the new SEA, several Taiwanese and US groups (Wild at
Heart, CSI, HSI and NRDC) requested clarification. The response from the
NMFS is that, having already issued the IHA and with the first leg of the
survey already underway, NMFS is now changing the conditions of the IHA in
order to allow L-DEO to carry out the second leg of the survey. Written
clarification is expected before the second leg begins, but the suggestion
is that the original logic upon which those conditions were based is to be
abandoned in order to allow the project to proceed.

Another point of concern relates to the recommendation by a number of
independent reviewers that seismic survey effort should be suspended at
night due to the difficulty of detecting cetaceans. L-DEO has decided not to
adopt this measure and the IHA supports this decision.

L-DEO states in the SEA that night time shut-down is “not feasible, as
limiting the surveys to daytime only would either result in the loss of half
of the data or would necessitate doubling the duration of the project.
Doubling the duration of the surveys is not possible because the Langseth
has other research commitments after this cruise, and because of weather
conditions associated with the typhoon season”.

In addition to other improved impact mitigation measures for seismic surveys
in general that we hope may result from the comments provided on this
project, it is suggested that in future night time shut-down procedures be
incorporated into seismic surveys at a sufficiently early stage that
research commitments, weather and other issues can be addressed and plans
adjusted accordingly.

Finally, the IHA (condition 10 (a)) also exempts L-DEO from carrying out
marine mammal observations during meal times. While all concerned can
appreciate the observers’ need for rest and food as well as the importance
of this for their effectiveness, the implication that during unspecified
periods of time some or potentially all of which will be during daylight
hours (the only hours during which MMVOs can be effective) there will be no
marine mammal observation is as much cause for concern as the decision not
to cease operations at night. This problem could easily be remedied by
increasing the number of MMVOs onboard and organizing shifts.

This ongoing L-DEO survey and its approval process are a useful case study
for anyone concerned with incidental takes of marine mammals by seismic
surveys worldwide. The various comment periods stimulated increased
participation by regional and species’ experts, demonstrating the value of
increased scientific participation; more comments were received and
incorporated into the eventual operation than any previous L-DEO event.
L-DEO may have accepted that it is more efficient to openly engage
appropriate experts during operational planning; it is evident that better
planning and regulatory oversight would have prevented last-minute, legally
questionable acceptance of inadequate mitigations because of the cost and
scheduling of the operation. In addition to this event as a reality-check of
U.S. regulatory oversight limitations, the complications of operating in
other nations’ EEZs and territorial waters are a worthy case study in
themselves.

Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association welcomes further comment and
discussion on this ongoing issue. Please write to Christina MacFarquhar at
chrisgagele at gmail.com.

Links:

Public comments on the EA (up to 5 February):
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/taiger_comments.pdf (see pages
17-213 reviews and comments).

Incidental Harassment Authorisation:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/taiger_iha-issued.pdf

Supplemental EA:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/taiger_ea-supplemental.pdf

Scientific reviews of the environmental assessment for the project:
Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG)
review:click here<http://en.wildatheart.org.tw/archives/Review%20of%20Taiwan%20seismic%20survey%20ETSSTAWG%2009-01.pdf>
Anonymous review by marine mammal scientist with considerable experience in
the region:click
here<http://en.wildatheart.org.tw/archives/SEAsiaLDEOreview_28.1.09.pdf>

Older documents:
Federal Register notice: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/fr/fr73-78294.pdf
L-DEO application for IHA:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/taiger_iha.pdf
L-DEO EA: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/taiger_ea.pdf

Once again, anyone wishing to contact the NMFS concerning this issue should
write to:

Michael Payne

Chief, Permits

Conservation and Education Division

Office of Protected Resources

National Marine Fisheries Service

1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring, MD, 20910–3225

michael.payne at noaa.gov.

--
Christina MacFarquhar
Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association
12F, 86 Chongcing South Road  Section 1 Taipei, Taiwan 100
Tel  886-2-2382-5789
Fax  886-2-2382-5810
www.wildatheart.org.tw/
Member organisation of Matsu's Fish Conservation Union:
www.taiwansousa.blogspot.com
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