Our Burning Planet

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Road to hell for marine life: Shell’s Wild Coast seismic assessment plans meet mounting public protest

Activists protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan off the Wild Coast and the arrival of the Amazon Warrior at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.

Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.

“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.

Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.

Activists protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. Shell’s announcement that it will conduct a seismic survey to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast has drawn outrage from the public (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.  

Read in Daily Maverick: Shell can go to hell: Petition against Wild Coast shale gas exploration grows.

shell protest
People protest at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration plan to probe for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.

In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home. 

People protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan off the Wild Coast and the arrival of the Amazon Warrior at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey. 

The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories. 

About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club. 

Protesters demonstrate at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 against Shell’s offshore exploration for oil and gas along the Wild Coast. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.

“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.

Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area. 

“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said. 

Strategic lead for the Green Connection, Liz McDaid addresses protesters at Sunday’s action against Shell’s plan to carry out a three-dimensional seismic survey in search of oil and gas deposits from Morgan Bay to Port St Johns off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.  

“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.

McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said. 

A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday. 

People gather at the Waterfront in Cape Town on Sunday, 21 November 2021 to protest against Shell’s offshore exploration plan along the Wild Coast. Demonstrators gathered to ‘unwelcome’ the ship commissioned to conduct the survey, which docked in Cape Town on Sunday. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid. 

“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said. 

“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.

“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.” DM/OBP

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  • Boycotting shell garages is spending energy on the wrong target. All fuel depots get fuel from the same pot, I am led to understand and the garages are businesses owned by innocent mom and pop families who have not much to do with Shell fracking.

    But most important – Shell only does what the South African government legally allows. Every shout against Shell is a wasted effort because the real ones to stop if you wish to protect the ocean environment is the South African Government.

    • Economic pressure is the only pressure these corporations understand. A comprehensive and concerted boycott of Shell garages will indeed impact the company. And those moms and pops can put pressure on their parent company to refrain from environmentally harmful practices.
      You can only ‘boycott’ the government at elections but corporations with your wallet. Besides, it doesn’t take ‘energy’ to drive to a different petrol station. Having said that, we do need to cut down our reliance on fossil fuels as much as possible – few oil companies are ‘innocent’ of environmental damage.

  • If you want to stop the blasting exercise isolate the vessel. No fuel., food, water, access and other supplies will force them to leave station and eventually stop the operation.