Criticism of University marine research project misinformed, unfounded
As principal investigator of the research Tom Brown refers to in his Sept. 9 letter, “Rutgers should not sacrifice environment for research projects,” I want to address several inaccuracies in his statements.
First, our National Science Foundation-funded research has nothing to do with oil or gas exploration. Our singular goal is to understand the physical response of the Jersey shore to climate change — one of the largest environmental challenges of our age. We collect acoustic images (seismic profiles) of sediments buried in the continental shelf to help us understand how coastlines have advanced and retreated as the world’s climate warmed and cooled over the past 35 million years.
The bounty of scientific knowledge we gain has immediate benefit to society — it will give us a better idea of how far inland a rising ocean might reach by the end of this century. That, in turn, will help planners implement effective strategies to protect those who live, work and vacation along the shore.
During the 24 years my colleagues and I have collected acoustic images off the Jersey shore, there has been no evidence that we have harmed fish, turtles or marine mammals. We undertake our research with great care for the environment and operate in full compliance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, adhering to strict protocols that ensure marine life is protected to the fullest extent possible.
Our work is restricted to times when endangered species are least likely to be migrating through the area. Independent marine mammal experts are present on seismic profiling cruises and authorized to temporarily halt surveying, if they spot affected animals in the area.
Our study was reviewed by several federal agencies including the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Office of Coastal Resource Management. It is also in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Gregory Mountain is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University.