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NJ Environmentalists Asking Court to Stop Ocean Blasting Research

Jul 03, 2014 12:36 PM EDT

New Jersey environmental officials are seeking a court order Thursday objecting to pending research that will involve blasting the ocean floor with sound waves, possibly killing or harming whales, dolphins and other marine life in the process.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is joining conservation groups in speaking out against plans to conduct seismic testing of ocean sediments off Barnegat Bay as part of a study by Rutgers University, University of Texas and the National Science Foundation. They say these blasts will help map climate change and global sea levels over the last 60 million years.

"This study will blast the ocean with sound waves that are orders of magnitude louder than anything humans have ever heard, every five seconds, 24 hours a day, for 30 days. To think that won't cause profound harm to marine life and to the industries that depend on the ocean is outrageous and appalling," Cindy Zipf, executive director of the organization Clean Ocean Action that is leading the opposition, told the Associated Press.

Clean Ocean Action, as well as other environmental bodies, boating and tourism groups, believe the blasting - which includes air gun blasts 11,500 feet underground that will reach sounds of 250 or more decibels - will debilitate marine food sources off the New Jersey coast and cripple the state's recreational and commercial fishing and boating industries.

Commercial fisherman, for example, note that similar seismic testing has wiped out scallop beds, and they worry about threatened whale species that migrate off the New Jersey coast and dolphins, still recovering from an illness that wiped out hundreds last year, reported.

Furthermore, though this study is currently seeking approval for their research all in the name of science, these groups consider it rather a gateway to justify oil drilling off the East Coast in the future.

"Once you start down that path, it's like a domino effect," said US Rep. Frank Pallone.

Despite all the resistance, the NOAA issued a permit Tuesday allowing marine animals to be disturbed as part of the research, but also laid down measures meant to cause as little harm to the animals as possible.

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