Sonic cannons could help economy, hurt marine life

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The Carolina coast is split on the recent approval of sonic cannons to search the ocean floor for natural resources. On one hand, it could mean lower prices for the consumer. On the other, it could be detrimental to marine life.

Siding with energy developers over environmentalists, the President's administration approved technology that creates underwater blasts of sound to find pockets of untapped oil and gas under the sea floor.

"It pushes a sound pulse down into the water and reflects off different substrates, the sea floor and other structures below. So what that survey does is runs along the coast to image the sea floor," explained Paul Gayes, the Director of the School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science with Coastal Carolina University.

Marine life uses a similar method to search for food. The use of the sonic cannons would push a high volume of noise pollution in waters shared by whales, dolphins, and turtles. However, because the marine life is protected by strict federal regulations, it is difficult for scientists to track exactly how the use of the cannons effect the marine life.

"It's a daily business around the world. Not to say it won't have an impact, but the extent is not yet determined," said Gayes.

The unknown is what has many environmentalists on edge.

Nancy Cave with the Coastal Conservation League warns this is a giant experiment and gambles with marine life and the overall well-being of the ocean.

Paul Gayes explained this process is many years in the making. "These have been used for some time in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere around the world. Its standard procedure in the industry," he said.

Associate professor Robert Salvino, a Research Economist with CCU said it could bring in natural resources and lower the cost for consumer.

"It could also create a huge economic boom. First in the exploratory phase as they try to determine what resources are off our shore. And then again during the drilling and distribution process," said Salvino.

However, Salvino explained, there is a trade off for the research and economic impact. Gayes agreed.

"A multitude of concerns out there on the environmental side when you start to do the exploration of what the resource even is," said Gayes.

Local residents debate if the gamble is worth it.

"It is not just about the sun and fun. People come here for the ocean and the marine life. It affects everything down the line," expressed Lisa Hilton, a Myrtle Beach resident.

Experts don't know the long lasting impact of using the sonic cannons

"No one wants to kill the planet. But we also have to think of the future and how to energize this country," argued James Landry, a supporter for the exploration of natural resources on the sea floor.

For some, their concern lays with the well-being of marine life and protecting the delicate ecosystem under the ocean's surface. For others, it is pushing forward for progress and their bottom line.

"I don't want to import foreign oil. I don't want to pay 12 dollars at the pump. There has to be a happy medium," voiced Landry.

With the approval of sonic cannons to explore for natural resources, experts explain if any are found off the coast it could mean a multi-billion dollar industry.