Protecting the ocean for all life is not a choice

August 11, 2017

My organization has the privilege of working to protect marine animals and their ocean habitat for Delaware. Thanks in great part to the wonderful members of our community, who demonstrate deep caring and concern for the welfare of the ocean and its creatures, we are able to accomplish our conservation mission. However, with the recent onslaught of proposals, each one devastating in its impacts on ocean life, we are faced with unprecedented challenges to defend against them.

The well-being of the ocean and its vital role as habitat, food source, and life source for every species including humans, is currently under attack from many sources, including the for-profit world, and government and regulatory entities.

Seismic testing has been reintroduced to occur off the coast of Delaware, which will ultimately be followed by oil and gas drilling, causing death to tens of thousands of marine mammals and other marine life, while impacting the quality of life for all who reside here.

The Coastal Zone Act was weakened to open up industrial use of sites that have lain dormant for many years, and an ocean outfall was permitted for installation just one mile off Rehoboth Beach, despite the fact that there are available alternatives to manage wastewater that would be significantly less costly to our citizens, and less costly to the environment.

The outfall will allow up to 7 million gallons of wastewater to be dumped into the ocean each and every day, and the effluent will contain many harmful substances not filtered out at the plant, including pharmaceuticals, endocrine inhibitors, caffeine and heavy metals. These toxins will have a cumulative effect that is proven to cause cancers and other ailments in whales and dolphins.

The construction of the project as it has been proposed will take place during the fall and spring migration of large whales, including humpback and fin whales, as these magnificent animals instinctively follow their ancient migratory routes shown to them by their mothers. North Atlantic right whales, several species of dolphins, and seals frequent the area of the outfall throughout the winter months, foraging for food and seeking resting places.

This natural behavior of survival will be completely disrupted by the extreme noise levels and physical impediments posed by the construction aspect of the pipe off Deauville Beach.

The decision makers for our local, state and federal governments are charged with abiding by pre-existing environmental laws, established out of the essential need to protect and conserve the oceans from harmful human impacts. These laws are there for a reason, and since ocean health is integral to human health and the health of this planet, these laws need to be upheld.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act exists to make sure that our human activities do not interfere with the lives of these endangered species. In light of this, we are seeking mitigations and provisions to protect the lives and welfare of these innocent animals who have no say in what is happening, while at the same time helping the City of Rehoboth Beach, DNREC and the contractors to abide by the tenets of the MMPA.

This will mean temporary work stoppages during the presence of whales, dolphins and seals in the area, and the placement of trained, objective observers at the construction site and on the water to monitor the presence of these species, while ensuring that protocols are employed to suspend construction activity during the presence of any of these species within a specified radius.

At the very least, these steps will serve to protect marine animals during the construction phase, but sadly will do nothing to lessen the long-term impacts of toxic effluent streaming into the oceans for decades to come, causing chronic long-term degradation of the marine ecosystem.

Protecting the ocean for all life is not a choice, but the responsibility of everyone. The ocean is a primary component of the earth's ecosystem, and we cannot continue to harm it as if its vastness somehow dilutes the constant stream of assaults against its survival. We live in a community that cares deeply about the quality of ocean health, and we hope that everyone will put their collective voices to work in trying to influence our decision makers to make choices in favor of protecting the ocean, and to turn the tide from choices that are financially and environmentally reckless.

Suzanne Thurman
MERR Institute


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