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THE IRISH Whale and Dolphin Group has said the Department of Energy is in potential breach of the EU habitats directive for licensing a seismic survey off the Co Mayo coastline without providing adequate protection for marine mammals.
The three-dimensional survey is due to start tomorrow on the Corrib field, 65km off the Mayo coastline, and will continue for 100 days, weather permitting.
The group, which has lodged a complaint with the European Commission and the Department of Energy, said the survey would involve emitting acoustic explosions which would be repeated continuously every 50 metres in a 122sq km area.
“A total of 21 cetacean species have been recorded off Co Mayo,” the group said, noting that whales, dolphins and porpoises depended on sound to navigate, find food, avoid predators and communicate.
It said the department was breaching article 12 of the EU habitats directive with the licence issued to Shell EP Ireland.
Irish waters provide for a whale and dolphin sanctuary, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists several of the species found here as “endangered”. These include northern right, blue, fin, sei, humpback and sperm whales.
Measures under the habitats directive say member states must establish a system of strict protection for listed animal species.
These include prohibiting “deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during the period of breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration”, and “deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places”. The group said the mitigation measures proposed were inadequate, and that an environmental effect monitoring programme was needed to assess the effect of the survey on the endangered species in the affected area.
It said the risk assessment submitted by Shell was in breach as it had insufficient data on marine mammals in the Corrib field. “The baseline information is so deficient as to make the risk assessment meaningless because the developers have not addressed monitoring of marine mammals at the Corrib field,” group spokesman Shay Fennelly said.
Shell said the survey would involve three vessels, one to lay cables on the sea floor, one to serve as a “source vessel” and one to ensure safe navigation.
The Department of Energy said conditions for the survey consent included compliance with the 2007 Code of Practice for the Protection of Marine Mammals during Acoustic Seafloor Surveys in Irish waters. A second condition states the applicant should ensure reporting of marine mammal observer operations occurs within 30 days of survey completion. A fisheries liaison officer and marine mammal observer will be required to be on board for the duration of the survey, the department said