Community shows paddle power against seismic blasting proposal

March 30, 2024 BY

Surfers young and old paddle out. Photo: NICK GREEN PHOTOGRAPHY.

THOUSANDS of Surf Coast residents and ocean lovers gathered last Saturday for one of the biggest paddle outs on record.

The event organised by Surfrider Foundation Australia, a not-for-profit charity dedicated to protecting Australia’s oceans, saw the community unite against the permit application for what would be the world’s largest seismic survey.


Campaigners get ready to paddle out. Photo: ANGUS SMITH


Seismic surveying, also known as seismic blasting, is a precursor to offshore oil and gas drilling. It involves ships towing setups of airguns and sound receivers through the water. These devices release intense blasts into the ocean to map the ocean floor.

The blasts reach a 250 decibels rating, which is higher than that of atomic bombs.


Thousands of Surf Coast residents and ocean lovers gathered and over 500 paddled out for one of the biggest protests of its kind. Photo: MATT SEDUNARY PHOTOGRAPHY


Energy company SLB—formerly known as Schlumberger—and data firm TGS are seeking a joint special prospecting permit from the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) for the blasting operations.

If sanctioned by the government regulator, the permit would greenlight blasting activities across 45,000 sq km of oceanic territory between Victoria and Tasmania, affecting marine parks, endangered blue whale feeding grounds, and other critical habitats.


Thousands of Surf Coast residents and ocean lovers gathered and over 500 paddled out for one of the biggest protests of its kind. Photo: MATT SEDUNARY PHOTOGRAPHY


Victorian independent Senator Lidia Thorpe voiced her opposition at the rally.

“I am here to save country, to save sea country,” Ms Thorpe said.

“This goes into Gunditjmara country; I am a Gunditjmara Djab Wurrung woman. There is no consent from our people to destroy our whale dreaming.

“We need to stand up against these decision-makers, politicians, and mining and oil companies that want to destroy our beautiful ocean sea country.”


Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe (right), voiced her opposition at the rally. Photo: ANGUS SMITH


Corangamite Labor federal member Libby Coker expressed her support for the community.

“It was important to be at the Torquay Paddle Out today to stand with my community,” she said.

“I am pleased the regulator has listened to my call and has halted the proposal for seismic testing in our ocean.”


Member for Corangamite, Libby Coker, attended the paddle out. Photo: ANGUS SMITH


NOPSEMA announced it had pressed pause on the permit application to allow for a detailed assessment of the Environmental Plan (EP) following a meeting with Ms Coker just days before the rally.

Part of the assessment process includes the manner in which the consultation process has been conducted.

“We will not accept the EP until the requirements of regulations have been met,” the NOPSEMA spokesperson said.




Surfrider national campaign director Drew McPherson said it meant the project’s EP would get a more thorough assessment.

“If this gets approved, it will get approved without us actually getting to look over the EP.

“But don’t get me wrong, it’s a small win. It pushes this project further back, and it’s wind in the sails for communities.”

“It’s a good little win, but it’s not the end.”


Surfrider national campaign director Drew McPherson. Photo: ANGUS SMITH


In the days following the rally NOPSEMA issued a statement revealing the EP had been returned to the titleholder to address a number of issues.

“In due course the titleholder will resubmit the EP and NOPSEMA will then assess it further. It could be returned to the titleholder again if issues remain or a final decision could be made,” a NOPSEMA spokesperson said.

Otway Coastal Environment Action Network (OCEAN) campaigner Greta Carroll welcomed the news the EP had been returned to TGS/SLB.

“We hope this means that they’re looking closely at the safety and environmental impacts of the project.”


OCEAN campaigner Greta Carroll. Photo: NICK GREEN PHOTOGRAPHY.


Ms Coker said the timeframe for the company to respond was not defined, so the community needed to remain vigilant.

“I remain concerned that these very well-resourced companies were unable to put together an environment plan that was up to standard.”


The paddle-out as seen from above. Photo: AFAM STAN PHOTOGRAPHY.


Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said surfers had made a difference in Torquay before in federal elections.

“It’s important that Labor and the Prime Minister hear the community voice here today,” Mr Whish-Wilson said.


Greens MLA Tim Read (L-R) with Greens Senator Whish-Wilson and member for Western Victoria, Dr. Sarah Mansfield. Photo: ANGUS SMITH


Whish-Wilson criticised NOPSEMA’s track record.

“NOPSEMA has approved over 120 proposals since its inception as an independent regulator, essentially rubber-stamping oil and gas projects in Australia.”

“We actually need to change the act itself.”

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