Scientist calls for more research into seismic surveys as they leave lobsters flat on their backs

A study published in a UK biology journal has revealed that controversial seismic surveys for oil and gas can impact the ability of rock lobsters to avoid predators.

Key Points:

  • Seismic surveys are used to search for oil and gas underneath the seafloor
  • Recent approvals to survey west of King Island in Bass Strait have lobster fishers worried
  • The Greens are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into seismic testing in Australia

Research by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart and Curtin University in Western Australia found lobsters exposed to the air guns used in seismic surveys had damaged statocysts, an organ similar to the human inner ear.

One of the researchers, Ryan Day, said this left the lobsters with an impaired ability to right themselves when flipped over.

“They really rely on this ability to right themselves and to control when they are escaping from a predator,” he said.

The lobsters received the equivalent of a full survey passing within 300–500 metres.

“In all experiments we didn’t detect any sign of recovery, even one year after,” Dr Day said.

The results have prompted a renewed call by Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson for the practice to be investigated.

Bass Strait Controversy

Earlier this year approval was given to 3D Oil to conduct seismic surveys in the Otway Basin, 18 kilometres west of King Island.

President of the Tasmanian Rock Lobster Fishermen’s Association, John Sansom, said this area encroaches on the lobster fishery.

Mr Sansom said he was more concerned about the effects on the larvae or eggs.

“Through this research we understand that seismic surveys actually impact on larvae and actually kill them.

Dr Day said that demand for oil meant surveys would continue but consideration should be given to important fisheries.

“The thing that we need to get to is being able to develop an idea of threshold limits,” he said.

“How far away should a seismic survey stay from lobster habitats or scallop habitats.”

Calls for more research

Dr Day said there was very little known about the effects of seismic surveys on invertebrates like lobsters and scallops.

“They’re really important fisheries and if we’re having an impact on them it’s important to understand what that impact is and how we can minimise it,” Dr Day said.

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“This is really the first step — knowing that there is some sort of impact — but understanding what the ramifications for that are is really the next big question.”

Senator Whish-Wilson would like to see a precautionary approach taken to seismic surveys until more research is done.

“The further you look into it the more you realise there has just been no work done in this area, there’s been no research,” he said.

Research from 2017 found seismic surveys also have a detrimental impact on scallops.

Julian Harrington, Chief Executive of the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council said the industries needed to work together.

“The most recent research has certainly shown there’s greater impact from seismic [surveys] on the marine environment than the gas and oil industry have ever acknowledged in the past,” Mr Harrington said.

“We need to come together and come to an agreement that there are greater impacts and we need to try and work together in the best interest of the marine environment and all users of that marine environment.”

3D Oils have been contacted for comment.

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