Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

'Resistance' promised over sea protest law change

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

The Government's controversial proposed sea protest law will only lead to more demonstrations on the water, says a member of a group that today attempted to disrupt seismic testing off the Taranaki coast.

Raglan tourism operator Phil McCabe joined seven other West Coast residents in a protest against seismic testing by Kea Petroleum in a permitted area in the West Coast North Island marine mammal sanctuary.

Mr McCabe claimed the seismic surveying method used by the company directly affected marine species in a sanctuary he felt was supposed to protect them from such activities.
"We feel that humans should be taking a wide berth and giving these animals a fair shot at recovery," he said.

"Seismic surveying is akin to someone sitting outside your bedroom 24 hours a day and letting off a shotgun."

When the group arrived at the coast before setting out, Mr McCabe said he could hear and feel booms going off "every 15 seconds" from a kilometre away in an off-shore breeze.

But Kea Petroleum chief executive Richard Parkes said the company had signed up to a code on conduct that minimised the effect of acoustic signals on marine mammals and today's survey had "exceeded" requirements of the code.

The company had also submitted to the Department of Conservation a marine mammal impact assessment that included detailed sound modelling.

"What we can tell from the modelling that's been done is there is no negative impact on these species and, also from the observations at the time of the survey, we haven't detected any animals except for a few common dolphins."

Mr McCabe remained worried about the effects of seismic testing especially on the highly endangered Hector's and Maui's dolphins.

The Department of Conservation had informed him a threat management plan to protect the dolphins from effects such as mining operations was to have been completed by December.

"It's mid-April. Where's the decision?"

He described today's action as a "last option" and said that an amendment to Crown Minerals Act that would restrict such demonstrations would only fuel more protest.

"If they go down this track, they should expect increased resistance from everyday New Zealanders."

A Department of Conservation spokesman said the threat management plan was with Conservation Minister Nick Smith, and there was no timeframe as to when it would be adopted.

This week, a review published by Otago University stated the Hector's dolphin population could recover if protection measures were extended out to 100m deep throughout its habitat.

Recommended measures including areas being large enough, in the right location and key threats being effectively managed, along with ensuring no new threats - such as marine mining - were added.

These are currently estimated to be 7270 South Island Hector's dolphins and as few as 55 North Island Hector's dolphin, also known as Maui's dolphin.

- NZ Herald

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