Maddie rallying the troops at a beach protest
Photo by Brittany Raine

“What does an Aussie in South Africa do when she learns that Shell is planning to blast the Wild Coast’s oceans in search of oil?
She joins the fight, of course!”

Read Oceaneer Maddie’s account of the campaign against Shell and Big Oil.

Fighting for the Oceans

Joining the fight is a habit of mine. In fact, it’s become a way of life for me. From Sea Shepherd campaigns and rebuilding coral reefs, to managing marine research stations, I try to make myself useful. Hearing of Shell’s plans to conduct seismic surveying on the Wild Coast, it took me back to 2018 when I boarded Sea Shepherd’s flagship vessel, the MV Steve Irwin, to help protect my country’s Great Australian Bight. Home to more marine species than the Great Barrier Reef, The Bight is a place of unparalleled beauty. Our fight was against Equinor and BP who wanted to drill for gas in some of our roughest waters. 

We won.

So when I first heard about the proposed seismic surveying here in SA waters in November 2021, I again felt the call to fight, and sprung into action!

Photo by Kate Kvalsvig
Oceaneers’ Greg Dacombe on the front lines

Recruiting Oceaneers for the cause

At the end of 2021, I joined Oceaneers with the goal of building up the Gordon’s Bay community. Even though Oceaneers’ focus is on food choices, I felt strongly that Oceaneeers should get involved in this fight, and what better way to start my new job than with a bit of activism! 
Given Oceaneers’ vision of a healthy and thriving Ocean, we couldn’t ignore the impact that seismic survey is having on this vision. Seems like my case was convincing, as Oceaneers were eager to jump on board thereafter.


What is Seismic testing, and why are we so opposed to it?

Basically, it involves sending high powered air guns to penetrate the sea floor in search of oil and gas reserves. There’s still a lot to learn and research about the effects of seismic air gun noise on marine animals. It’s becoming clear though that the noise can damage the auditory senses of marine animals – you try being near a blast that is strong enough to discover oil deposits kilometres and kilometres under the sea floor. It can disrupt feeding and breeding behaviours, migratory patterns, and it makes communication difficult for cetaceans. It may even cause decompression sickness, just to name a few.


Oceaneers making a stand at the Muizenberg beach protest

Taking to the streets – and the Oceans – together with other local orgs

Oceaneers is a community of hundreds of salty souls who care for the Oceans, and it didn’t take much to mobilise them. We attended the first protest at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town where one of our most engaged activists – Kelly Steenhuisen – got interviewed live on SABC News (see video below). A second one soon followed at Muizenberg Beach held by Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion. These protests highlighted just how many people in our local community wanted to stand up and fight for our oceans, which motivated me to want to do even more.  

I linked up with local conservation surfing organisation Surf4Earth to plan the first ever nationwide paddle out protest against seismic surveying in SA waters. This is a huge trend in the Australian conservation scene and is a powerful way to get the message out. We had surfers organising protests on their local beaches in Muizenberg, Strand, Big Bay, Mossel Bay, Gqeberha, Jeffrey’s Bay, Durban, Umhlanga and Ballito. It was a great demonstration of the power of the people!

For those who didn’t want to get in the water, Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion supported us by organising a land protest at Muizenberg Beach with some other powerful conservation organisations such as The Green Connection, Project 90 by 2030, African Climate Alliance, The South African United Fishing Front, Sentinel Ocean Alliance, Coastal Links and Oceans not Oil. 

These protests and the incredible litigation teams involved put so much public pressure on the issue that Shell would not be able to conduct a seismic survey until the end of November 2022. The verdict is pending the result of Part B of the interdict, which will be heard on 30 May.


Photo by Anwar Adams
Strand paddle out protest

Oceaneer Kelly live on SABCNews

We may have won that battle but the war is far from over

Soon after the news of our victory over Shell, we were informed of yet another planned seismic survey, this time by Searcher Geodata UK Limited (Searcher). They’d been granted a permit allowing them to survey an enormous area (2970892 km) offshore between the South African/Namibian border and Cape Agulhas. A huge concern is that neither Shell or Searcher needed Environmental Authorisation to apply for their permits. This means that the South African environmental department never needed to approve these oil company’s plans. All that was required was to produce an Environmental Management Plan which they can apply for directly through the mining department… who unfortunately seem to approve anything that channels cash their way. This shows that not enough investigation was done to determine whether or not these surveys are safe for our waters. This is a massive loophole within the South African government, and has now turned the fight against not only big oil companies, but also calls for the reviewing of the entire South African mining act.

Thanks to the work of West Coast small-scale fishing communities, indigenous communities, NGOs Green Connection and Coast Links Langebaan, Searcher lost their appeal and announced it would be abandoning these survey plans. 

We’ve had wins, but the battle continues. It seems that Shell’s seismic survey was just one of many planned surveys around South African waters. Tosaco also received approval for its seismic survey, which was part of the initial Searcher West Coast application, off Port Nolloth and adjacent to the recent Namibian discovery. The ‘small’ black oblong area in the picture below (v.1) within the bigger triangle is the area to be surveyed.

Source: Oceans Not Oil
Proposed Surveying Area – v.1

Source: Oceans Not Oil
Proposed Surveying Area – v.2

Right at our doorstep

Total Energies and its partners Shell & PetroSA, have applied for Environmental Authorisation for their seismic project focusing from Saldanha Bay all the way to the coast off Cape Agulhas, and it underwent its seismic testing by Petroleum Geo-Services from January 2020 – April 2020. We wait to see whether this application includes exploratory drilling. 


You can see in the above picture that the red outline is indicating the block that they have a license to explore in, while the yellow outline is the proposed area for drilling… as you can see above (v.2) it’s right off our very own Cape Town.

Photo by: Britaany Raine
Strand beach protest

Stay up to date
For more in depth information about the nitty gritty of all planned seismic surveying activities in South Africa, follow Oceans Not Oil blog updates here: 

Oceans Not Oil – blog updates

ONO is one of the main organisations on the front lines fighting all things oil and gas in South African waters. They provide regular, easy to understand information on current updates of oil and gas issues in South Africa so that you can be a part of the fight too.

We need you

We need all the voices we can get to keep this momentum going. The fight has only just begun and we need you to scream your objections as loud as possible if we are going to keep South Africa’s waters free from oil and gas exploration, and all of the potential disasters that come with it.

Yours in activism!

Photo by: Brittany Raine
Save our Oceans!

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Oceaneers is a community-driven initiative created by two ocean lovers who wanted to inspire others to see that the biggest positive impact they could make to ocean sustainability was to change their food choices.

© 2018 Oceaneers.For.Life 



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