Surfrider Foundation’s Chad Nelsen On The Fight To Stop Seismic Testing in California

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) recently unveiled its plans to start seismic testing off the Central Coast of California at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Morro Bay.  The seismic survey would be conducted using a 235-foot vessel towing a quarter-mile-wide array of underwater air canons, and could cause sonic blasts up to 255 decibels every 15 seconds around the clock for 17  consecutive days.

While some researchers argue that testing such as this could produce negligible results and may not even be necessary, PG&E believes the proposed seismic survey is the best way to define the amount of movement that could be produced by faults in the area, which would help progress California’s emergency preparedness plans. Regardless of the findings, many within the California surf community are alarmed with the potential repercussions and view the testing as invasive to the ocean, sea life, and--not surprisingly--surfers who are in the water everyday. The Surfrider Foundation is one organization encouraging preventative measures, and urging local surfers and ocean lovers to speak out against the plans at an upcoming Coastal Commission hearing, which will determine the outcome of PG&E’s proposed plans.

“The goal is admirable--to improve the safety,” says Surfrider Foundation Environmental Director Chad Nelson.  “The problem is the testing proposed threatens to kill marine mammals, fish, and cause damage to humans,” he continues, pointing out that an estimated  17 different species would be harmed during the seismic testing, the pod of local porpoises that live within the area being the most vulnerable and, therefore, the most affected, as they are sensitive to man-made sounds.

The California Coastal Commission is the only resource available to approve or deny the permits necessary for plans of this magnitude- it is the last, and potentially most important vote. The hearing will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday, November 14th at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and the Surfrider Foundation will be hosting a 7 a.m. pancake breakfast to rally activists that morning at Jinky’s Cafe.

“Every voice counts,” says Surfrider. “If you cannot attend the hearing but wish to contribute, send a message to the Coastal Commission, asking them them to deny PG&E’s request for seismic testing.”

Chad Nelsen, Surfrider Foundation

Chad Nelsen, Surfrider Foundation

We caught up with Surfrider’s Nelsen to learn more about the seismic testing, who it would affect, and why it’s important to give back to the ocean.

Why is this an important topic important to Surfrider?

The impacts threaten the coastal environment in the Morro Bay area and also threaten coastal recreation. The Surfrider Foundation not only cares about surfers and ocean recreation but also the health of the oceans. Further, we worked hard to help get marine protected areas established up and down the coast and we recognize that fishermen made sacrifices by not fishing in those areas, like Point Buchon Marine Reserve near Diablo Canyon, and we think it’s unfair that someone else would be allowed to impact those areas. This project will impact the Point Buchon Marine Reserve.

How has Surfrider been actively opposing PG&E’s efforts?

Our San Luis Obispo Chapter has been involved since the issue began. They have been educating the local community about the threats and also the fact that PG&E has not justified the need for the project. They have also spoke out in opposition to the project, most recently at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting about 10 days ago where the Board voted to oppose the project (see link below). We have also been working to educate the Coastal Commissioners about the impacts to the project, the questionable need and less damaging alternatives. Last, we are working hard to get folks to attend the meeting to show their opposition to the project.

What impact will seismic testing have if this proposal is approved?

We are expecting impacts to fish, marine mammals and ocean recreation. It is estimated by the Coastal Commission that at least 100 marine mammals will be injured or harmed, what is considered Level A take and that approximately 7,000 mammals will be harassed and have their normal behavior altered, known as Level B take. This includes three species of endangered whales and also sea otters, which are a protected species. Of particular concern are the local population of harbor porpoise who have a small population, do not range very far, and are particularly sensitive to noise. This testing could potentially threaten the existence of this subpopulation. Beyond that it will also affect fish and fish larvae, which could have significant long term impacts to commercial and recreational fishing in the Morro Bay area. Last, during these tests there are threats to anyone in the ocean. The decibel levels are four to 30 times higher than those deemed safe for ocean recreation, so ocean recreation will be off limits from Cayucos through Morro Bay and down to Montana de Oro for the 17 days of testing. This area is rich with surf spots and provides many other ocean recreational opportunities so this is a pretty big impact.

While, all of these impacts are horrible, maybe worst is that approval of this project will set a terrible precedent statewide and may open up opportunities for these destructive tests to be repeated in Morro Bay in subsequent years and also conducted across wide swaths of the ocean near San Onofre, where seismic testing has been proposed from Laguna Beach to Encinitas!

 Why should people come out to support on Wednesday?

As evidenced by the Trestles hearings, a large public turn out in opposition to a project at the Coastal Commission hearings can make a big difference in the final outcome. The Coastal Commission is a public body who is entrusted with managing California’s coastal resources for the benefit of the public, so it means a lot to them when the public share’s their voice. For that reason, we are urging the public to show their opposition to this project on Wednesday because their participation will could have a major impact on the outcome of the decision.

Last, we will be providing live updates of the Coastal Commission hearing via twitter using the hashtag #stopseismic

More info can be found at: