Seismic surveys use loud sound to search for features, such as oil and gas, under the sea floor. These sounds have the potential to impact marine mammals in various ways.
Code of Conduct developed in 2012
In 2012 DOC developed a voluntary Code of Conduct for Minimising Acoustic Disturbance to Marine Mammals from Seismic Survey Operations (the Code) following discussions with international and domestic stakeholders representing industry, observers and marine scientists.
The Code and the supporting reference document aim to provide effective, practical mitigation measures for minimising acoustic disturbance of marine mammals during seismic surveys.
The Code has been endorsed as industry best practice by the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ).
Exclusive Economic Zone regulations
Under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects – Permitted Activities) Regulations 2013, seismic surveying is a permitted activity within EEZ waters provided the Code is complied with. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for monitoring seismic surveys within the EEZ to determine compliance with the Code.
The Code was updated slightly at this time to facilitate this.
Reviewing the Code of Conduct
At the time it was implemented, DOC committed to a review of the Code after three years.
Accordingly, the 2013 Code is currently undergoing a thorough review. This process is again drawing on the expertise of a diverse array of specialists and stakeholders to provide DOC with the information required to improve the Code for current and future survey technologies.
Feedback was solicited from these experts in July, 2015. A series of Technical Working Groups were formed to provide advice on key areas of the Code in response to that feedback. Reports from the Technical Working Groups are available below.
Also, DOC is exploring ways to have a more outcome-focused approach to facilitate the use of new technologies under the Code. This was suggested by several stakeholders, including industry.
A separate regulatory process will be needed to implement the new code when it is finalised. Meanwhile, the 2013 Code will remain in force.
Update – July 2017
Progress on the review of the Code has been slow in 2017, due to the November earthquakes, associated office moves, a mass stranding, a busy summer field season, and commitments of staff to other work programmes.
DOC is now recommencing efforts to finalise the revised Code, and government agencies will be meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the best path to finalise and implement the revised Code.
It is unfortunate that this process has taken longer than envisaged, but the intent is to ensure the revised Code is robust and offers a framework that can be applied within NZ for many years. We would rather take longer and get it right than to implement the wrong thing quickly.
Fortunately, the review is intended to improve the 2013 Code, rather than fix something which is broken. The 2013 Code is generally working effectively and providing good protection for marine mammals, and will remain in place while the revised Code is finalised.
For enquiries relating to:
- administration or interpretation of the Code – contact DOC at firstname.lastname@example.org
- compliance with or enforcement of the Code – contact the EPA at email@example.com.
In addition to the six gazetted Marine Mammal Sanctuaries DOC has identified a number of Areas of Ecological Importance for marine mammals based on information in the sightings and strandings databases.
One of the primary objectives of the Code is to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge on the physical and behavioural impacts of seismic surveys on marine mammals through improved, standardised observation and reporting.
Feedback is strongly encouraged from stakeholders concerning any positive or negative experiences encountered while implementing the Code in operational conditions, and will be used to inform future reviews.