Surfers highlight fossil fuel outrage

September 1, 2021
Surfers prepare to protest. Photo: Chris Fox

Climate activists disrupted, locked on to and boarded a seismic testing ship in the port of Geelong on its way to search for new oil and gas deposits off the coast of King Island on August 16.

Forty protesters on surfboards approached the Geo Coral and blockaded the high-security gateway to the port.

They managed to board the ship on August 18 after paddling out to display a banner calling for the ocean to be protected.

The actions followed recent approvals by the federal government’s offshore oil and gas regulator — the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) — for the testing. The testing will take place about 23 kilometres west of King Island and includes part of the Zeehan Marine Park.

Councils throughout the region hold grave concerns for the impact of testing and drilling on marine life, particularly whales and rock lobster fisheries.

The protest was organised by the Otway Climate Emergency Action Network.

Organiser Lisa Deppeler said: “The seismic blasts are so loud they are no longer a sound you can actually hear; they are a massive shock wave of energy. Scientific evidence confirms the blasts kill, damage and disturb a huge array of marine creatures including whales. Research has shown blasts destroy zooplankton for at least [a] 1.5 kilometers radius.”

According to local fishers, fishing grounds that have been blasted can take more than five years to recover after a seismic ship has been through.

Torquay surfer Belinda Baggs said: “We are frustrated by the token consultation offered by our government regulator. We write letters and respond to what little opportunity there is from NOPSEMA, but our efforts are just ignored. NOPSEMA is just another arm of the gas and oil industry as far as I’m concerned.”

Deppeler said: “Today was a rare opportunity to interact with a survey vessel. It’s a dirty little secret that the gas and oil industry would prefer we didn’t know about. It happens out to sea, out of sight and out of mind of ordinary Australians.”

Other environment groups, including Extinction Rebellion (XR), supported the protest. Chris Fox, a convenor of XR Geelong, said she thought it was great that protesters were getting in before further COVID lockdowns to highlight this critical issue and raise awareness.

“The testing is just the thin edge of the wedge. If gas is found, it will be mined and probably find its way into something like the gas hub being put forward by Viva in Geelong”, Fox said. “In an era of galloping climate change, we have to mount as much pressure as possible to stop the use of fossil fuels and focus on renewables instead.”

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