Seismic Surveying

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Friday, 26th November 2021

Article by Marguerite Smit


The human desire to obtain more is a sieve that can never be filled with all the water from the world’s oceans.  - Will Bowen, Happy This Year

Imagine the sound of 100 guns going off every five to ten seconds, 24/7 for five months? Now imagine being a sea creature underwater and being exposed to that. That in essence is what the oil and gas industry has been given permission to do off our coast – 3D seismic surveying is what they call it.




It feels like just the other day when we gathered in masses, toyi-toying on Hobie Beach (some of us wearing tutu’s) before taking the plunge, head first into a peaceful protest swim against fish farms here in our Bay. Yet here we find ourselves once again, bringing awareness to another environmental issue with potential to destroy the marine life off our coastline and impact our Bay in ways we can’t yet fully understand.

During 2013-2014 the Petroleum Agency of SA (PASA) gave license to certain companies to explore for oil and gas in the economic exclusion zone (EEZ) around South Africa’s coast – called exploration “rights” the entire EEZ is divided up into “blocks” and these are then sold off to interested parties. Exploration for economically viable oil and gas reserves goes through several stages, and in the ocean, seismic surveys are at the front-end of those exploration activities. At the time the environmental legislation did not require that seismic surveys be subject to an environmental assessment before the survey commenced – duh… like you don’t have to understand the impact of the activities on the eco system before you start?! Let us not forget the wise words of Iroquois Maxim: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Legislation does now require that you do, but due to the transition component of the law all the exploration companies need do is an environmental management plan (EMP).




To make things as clear as mud, who does what is an intricate network of corporates and subsidiaries – companies who are given exploration rights can sell those in part or full to other companies, and you don’t need to own the right to do seismic surveys, you only need  the permission of the rights holder. So seismic surveys are run by companies with a fleet of ships who then create 3D maps of the ocean and sell of this data to the rights holders. There are currently 2 exploration blocks that are in the public and media limelight: one off the Transkei Wild Coast, and the other is a larger block that stretches off our Algoa Bay to Plettenberg Bay.

Shearwater GeoServices, and its ship the Amazon Warrior, has been appointed to conduct the Wild Coast survey and it will cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. With its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, easily hiding the atrocities that occur over the horizon where the human eye can’t see – out of sight out of mind. What the survey involves is basically a boat that drags up to 108 air guns behind it that set off seismic blasts. Those sonic signals in turn bounce off the ocean floor, and are then picked up by hydrophones. This gives the surveying companies a 3D map of the ocean floor and insight into the rock formations below. The airgun blasts are typically every 18.5 meters apart, or every 5-10 seconds. The exploration can take up to 5 months depending on weather conditions.  



Here is how you can help: Public input into the Wild Coast survey is closed, but you can still input into the Algoa Bay -Plett one. Register as an interested and affected party by emailing SLR Consulting with objection before Monday 29 November 2021:

More details can be found here:

Let us not forget that we live in a democratic country offering many energy solutions. We don’t need the oil and gas they’re exploring for, CSIR and others have already demonstrated that we have plenty wind and sun and the necessary technology to supply our future energy needs. So if you see a Shell or Total petrol station (two of the main commercial beneficiaries of these specific surveys) you may want to think about supporting their business, and also ultimately think about how you consume energy?

Imagine you are a small fish, swimming in a big ocean just about to admire a beautiful shell…when suddenly you realize it isn’t a sea shell and you are blown away by a seismic blast of cosmic proportion and this continues to throw you off your equilibrium every 5 seconds…for months? What impact would that have on you?

Research shows that underwater noise pollution can be heard 100’s of kilometres away. The ocean remains one of our biggest carbon sinks and so much of her remains undiscovered. We have to protect our oceans, they are critical to life on this planet. We have a voice – let’s keep the momentum going! If you do nothing else today, send an email objecting the Algoa Bay – Plett survey, you only have until Monday, let YOUR voice be heard!


When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money. —Cree Prophecy


Join us for a peaceful protest objecting to the Algoa-Bay/Plett survey on Sunday Dec 5 at 09:00 at Shark Rock Pier and join the Algoa Bay Ocean Stewards’ Facebook page…but first go send that email with your objection letter, its due by Monday!