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Environmentalists Battle Study of New Jersey Ocean Bed

May 27, 2014 01:01 PM EDT

Rutgers University scientists are planning to bombard a strip of the seabed off Long Beach Island with sound waves in a month-long, climate change-related study this summer, but are being met with strong opposition by environmentalists.

Researchers contend that the area is prime for better understanding how rising sea levels could impact the Eastern seaboard, and whether such events will hit the region gradually or in more dramatic episodes.

Environmentalists, who would presumably back a climate change-related study, say they fear the acoustics will harm whales and other marine mammals, as well as negatively impact New Jersey's vibrant summer seafood and tourism economy, The Daily Journal reported.

The group of challengers launched a campaign this weekend to educate beachgoers about the dispute, including plans to fly plane-towed banners with their message along the coast from Beach Haven to Sandy Hook.

"New Jerseyans are tenacious about protecting their Jersey Shore - from pollution to Superstorm Sandy," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. "Science doesn't get a pass."

And it is evident that these adversaries are determined, even if their beliefs are based on almost nothing.

Jimmy Lovgren, spokesman for the Fisherman's Dock Cooperative in Point Pleasant Beach, argued the sound would scare away fish, and kill fish larvae, scallops, and other sea life, while also admitting, "unfortunately, we don't have a lot of scientific proof."

Aside for their concern for wildlife, environmentalists are concerned the study could open the door to more aggressive seismic testing for oil and natural gas, according to The Associated Press.

The scientists counter that the experiment will not directly harm any animals; but, the planned disruptions could be significant enough to change animal behavior - for instance, inducing a whale to change course, stop feeding, or stop communicating with other whales.

Assuming the research takes place, "I predict we're going to see things we have never seen off the coast of New Jersey," lead researcher and Rutgers University geologist Gregory Mountain said, according to The Journal.

If not, the environmental data researchers seek will remain buried under the sand and make it more difficult to predict how changes in sea level will affect the coast.

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