On a December morning in 2018, a crowd began to gather at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank.
Behind a podium stood Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and stakeholders from the fishing and tourism industries, conservation scientists, and public officials. Attorney General Healey spoke to the audience as the cameras rolled. With the Aquarium’s most beloved exhibit as her backdrop, she announced the filing of a multi-state lawsuit to prevent the federal government from authorizing oil and gas exploration in U.S. waters along the East Coast.
Earlier in 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave the green light for companies to pursue seismic exploration surveys in the U.S. Atlantic. This move represented the first step in enabling groups to drill for oil and gas in these waters, opening the door for a catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. More immediately, however, these surveys have a detrimental bearing through the ocean noise they create.
Imagine standing on the tarmac at Logan Airport as a commercial jet flies 100 feet above you. That sound equates to about 70% of what is heard underwater during seismic surveying. Airguns dragged through the water by ships set off blasts of compressed air miles into the seabed to detect buried oil and gas deposits. The sound produced from each of these explosions, which travels hundreds of miles from its point of origin, measures between 200 and 260 decibels. The level of disruption that this causes to marine life is vast, from interfering with animals’ communication to causing confusion as they search for food sources. For critically endangered species already clinging to survival, such as the North Atlantic right whale, these disturbances have the potential to be disastrous.
Knowing this, the New England Aquarium took a stand. We led a coalition of six East Coast aquariums in creating and distributing a first-of-its-kind press release that publicly declared our opposition to oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast. The release described in detail the magnitude of the blasts and the impacts they would have on the Atlantic’s entire ecosystem. The piece, which 85 media outlets picked up nationwide, underscored our depth of knowledge in the field of ocean conservation, and also our conviction that the blue planet must be protected.
In response, Attorney General Healey’s office asked the New England Aquarium to partner with it in the fight against seismic testing. Having chosen our main building as the setting for the state’s announcement, Attorney General Healey said, “The Aquarium reminds us that we share this planet and are responsible for protecting it.”
This is a moment when decisions made in Washington, D.C. have the power to shape the future of our ocean. “The Aquarium is a trusted authority on North Atlantic right whales based on 40 years of scientific research. We’re now using that authority to advocate for policies that benefit the ocean for future generations,” said Kelly Kryc, Ph.D., Director of Marine Conservation Policy and Leadership at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. Our voice is integral to national conversations—from testifying to Congress to fight for the survival of the North Atlantic right whale to asking the public to defend the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
Our community of friends, members, and supporters have demonstrated their belief in our causes – and with your backing, we have emboldened our efforts to defend the ocean.