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A shock wave every ten seconds in the ocean: a project by the giant Shell to search for oil and gas off one of the most beautiful coasts ofSouth Africa was suspended Tuesday, December 28 by justice, an unprecedented victory for environmental activists.
Open to the Indian Ocean in the south-east of the country, the Wild coast, with spectacular wild landscapes, stretches over some 300 kilometers and has several nature reserves and marine protected areas.
It is there, over more than 6,000 km2, that the energy giant had decided to launch a new seismic exploration project. Environmental activists, fishermen and locals opposed it, saying it poses a threat to marine life.
Thousands of ocean activists and nature lovers demonstrated in December on beaches across the country and blocked Shell gas stations, calling for a boycott.
“Spiritual link with the ocean”
At the beginning of the month, the country’s justice system rejected a first appeal by environmental activists. The energy minister had defended the project, accusing his critics of blocking the economic investments South Africa needs.
This time, in this new action involving the community living in this hitherto unspoiled corner of nature, the Grahamstown court has “Prohibited to undertake seismic prospecting” to the Anglo-Dutch multinational, with immediate effect, according to the judgment of which AFP has obtained a copy.
Judge Gerald Bloem ruled that the company had not fulfilled the obligation to consult the local population, which notably holds fishing rights and maintains a “Special spiritual and cultural link with the ocean”.
“We respect the court ruling and have suspended the study while we review the judgment”a Shell spokesperson told AFP, who did not say whether the company would appeal.
Offshore fossil fuel prospecting uses the analysis of the propagation of seismic waves to determine the geological structure of soils likely to contain hydrocarbons. The shock waves are sent by boats equipped with air cannons.
“Studies of this nature have been carried out for more than fifty years, with more than fifteen years of in-depth scientific research”, argued the spokesperson for Shell.
“South Africa is heavily dependent on imports for a large part of its energy needs. If viable resources were discovered at sea, it could contribute significantly to the country’s energy security ”, he argued.
According to environmentalists, these detonations risk disrupting the behavior of fauna, its diet, its reproduction as well as migrations, especially that of whales, most marine animals relying on hearing.
“Incredibly strong lobbies”
“The voice of those directly affected has finally been heard and the constitutional rights of indigenous peoples have been recognized”, welcomed in a statement Sinegugu Zukulu, of the collective of residents Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC), which brings together landowners, fishermen and traditional chiefs.
“It’s a huge victory”, greeted Katherine Robinson, of the NGO Natural Justice, who was a civil party in the first legal action against the project.
“If we are to fight climate change, we must resist the exploitation of oil and gas in South Africa and across the continent, even though the lobbies are incredibly strong”, she insisted.
Shell’s project was to run for five months without interruption. The research involved sending a powerful shock wave every ten seconds, 24 hours a day.
Shell had assured to take all precautions to “Avoid or minimize the impact on fish, marine mammals and other wildlife”, in the research area located more than 20 kilometers from the coast in deep waters of 700 to 3,000 meters.