- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

BARNEGAT LIGHT, N.J. (AP) - Seismic testing that involved blasting the ocean floor off the New Jersey shore with sound waves has been completed, and fishing groups have stopped seeking a court order to halt it.

Five fishing groups had sued to stop the research, led by Rutgers University and involving the National Science Foundation, and the University of Texas, claiming it disturbs and possibly harms marine life including dolphins, whales, turtles and many fish species.

But in a joint court filing Wednesday, both sides acknowledged the testing had been completed on Monday, and that a restraining order shutting it down is no longer needed. The lawsuit itself remains active.

Gregory Mountain of Rutgers, the lead researcher, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the survey teams managed to cover 95 percent of the target area off Long Beach Island.

The project used sound waves to study sediment on the ocean floor dating back 60 million years to see how sea level rise has changed the coastline. They also say the research can help coastal communities understand sea level change over millions of years to better protect against storms like Superstorm Sandy. The findings could be used to help make decisions on where to elevate houses, build protective barriers, relocate critical infrastructure or retreat from certain spots.

Environmentalists say this type of research has a history of harming marine life, which can become disoriented or stressed from the noise, disrupting migratory patterns, displacing them and even causing them to strand themselves.

“It is again safe for marine life to migrate and live off the coast of Long Beach island, free from the harmful blasting of air guns during these biologically critical months,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group. “But it is truly a sad time for the ocean.”

Mountain said there was no evidence any marine animals were harmed by the study, but Zipf countered that there is no evidence that animals weren’t harmed, including three dead whales that were found near New Jersey since the testing began.

“Our data holds the promise of resolving the geologic record of sea-level change and its impact on the New Jersey coastline with far greater clarity than has been available to researchers before now,” Mountain said. “We expect our results will become a reference library of Earth’s behavior for decades to come.”

He said the groups have no plans for similar testing in the near future.

“But the process of scientific investigation by its very design does not lead in predictable directions,” he said, leaving open the possibility of future testing.

The survey began June 1, and could have extended through the end of August had it been necessary.

A separate lawsuit brought by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection challenging the way the project was approved remains active.


This story has been corrected to show that the lawsuit remains active even after a request to halt the testing has been withdrawn.

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