Students, environmental groups host mock oil spill to raise awareness

Students put on a mock oil spill to protest off-shore drilling (photo by John Irwin).
Students put on a mock oil spill to protest off-shore drilling (photo by John Irwin).

For Earth Day and the 3rd anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill, Mason students teamed up with environmental organizations to demonstrate the harmful effects oil spills have on marine life through a mock oil spill on April 17.

The imitation spill at the North Plaza featured students dressed in Hazmat (hazardous materials) suits scrubbing black spray paint off of inflatable marine animals. The event was organized by three entities: Oceana, the largest international organization promoting ocean conservation, Mason’s Environmental Action Group and Mason’s global interdisciplinary programs.

“We’re really interested in protecting Virginia’s coastlines,” said Lisa Breglia, director of Mason’s global interdisciplinary programs. “We’re trying to call some attention to the dangers of offshore drilling and we’re demonstrating – through a performance – what can happen to marine animals if they’re involved in an oil spill.”

Currently, there is no offshore drilling off the Virginia coast. So why are these groups advocating protection of the state’s coastlines?

The Department of the Interior, a government agency managing the U.S.’s natural resources, supports seismic air gun testing as a way to locate oil and gas reserves below the ocean floor. With such tests, blasts of compressed air are shot into the water, causing sound waves 100,000 times louder than a jet’s engine .

If oil reserves were detected by this technology, offshore drilling could become a reality – not only along Virginia’s coastlines, but also along the Atlantic Ocean.

And just like oil spills, seismic air guns can have far-reaching repercussions.

“[Seismic air guns are] quite devastating to animals that rely on sonar to navigate,” said Colin Nackerman, a member of the Environmental Action Group and freshman in Mason’s environmental policy program.

According to Oceana, “[These sound waves] are so loud and constant that they can injure or disturb vital behaviors in fish, dolphins, whales and sea turtles.”

Breglia echoed this, saying that marine animals use sonar to orient themselves, feed, reproduce and know if they’re upside down or right-side up.

Most of the spectators at the event agreed with the anti-air gun sentiment.

“[Seismic air guns] should never be used ever,” said  Erin Ziegler, a senior marine biology major. “They just play havoc with every poor thing in the ocean. They’re so auditory, and sound carries ridiculously far, if you do it in one place, you’ll still be messing with animals miles and miles away.”

Observers of the mock oil spill were encouraged to sign a petition to save marine life from seismic air gun testing and to prevent further offshore drilling.

“I signed the petition,” said Ziegler, “because no one likes dead animals.”

“It’s a worthy cause,” said Ted Dumas, an assistant professor of molecular neuroscience who signed the petition. “I’m in total support of not hurting marine life.”

Even with widespread support from the GMU community, the petitioners are on a timely hunt for more supporters.

“If you get 100,000 signatures in a month, then the White House considers your proposal,” Nackerman said.  “That’s what we’re out here gathering  signatures  as well as doing the demonstration, so people that don’t normally consider offshore drilling, and its effects, hopefully will start to think about it a little bit.”


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