After large 3D seismic survey carried out for the ENI-Novatek consortium for exploration of blocks 4, 5, 9 and 10 ended in December 2018, seismic surveying activity continues in Montenegrin water. This time 3D seismic surveying is focused on blocks 26 and 30 licensed to the Energean oil company. Surveying is carried out by fleet of three ships:  Ramform Titan – a massive seismic survey vessel (as advertised “the most powerful and the most efficient seismic ship in the world with power plant of 1.8 Megawatts of power from three variable pitch propellers…) and Thor Freyja and Sanco Sea – seismic survey support ships. According to the official statement, Ramform Titan is currently towing fourteen 6,5 km long streamers that have been installed and tested between 7 – 9. Feb when seismic survey started.

Surveyed blocks cover shallow shelf area with up to 100 m depth, only 1000 m from the coast so seismic boat activity can be easily observed (and heard) from the coast. Shelf area is the main habitat of bottlenose dolphins in Montenegro hence intensive seismic activity in the area is causing yet another unprecedented disturbance to the local population. The research published by Fortuna et al. in 2018 identified the area of current surveying as a potential Natura 2000 area for bottlenose dolphins, indicating the importance of this habitat for the species. Unfortunately, neither the researchers of the BWI nor the colleagues that carried out and published this article were consulted by those developing the Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) for seismic survey. Furthermore, although officials are calming the public by listing on-board presence of “environmental control and communication officer, four marine mammal observers and two fisheries communication officers”, their presence cannot make seismic activities safe for marine life. Officials also state that “monitoring of initial status of the environment, including status and movements of marine mammals and sea turtles has been carried out prior to the survey” implying that official procedure of impact assessment based on the research results was carried out. Unfortunately, such statement is a form of “wordplay” as in reality results of “initial status surveying PRIOR to survey” were not included in the EIA. Rather, an initial status survey is carried out most probably as part of the seismic surveying activities (maybe during few days when Thor Freyja was transecting the coastal area as visible in her track). Therefore, data collected a few days before the survey could not be included in the environmental impact assessment based on which the permit for seismic surveying was issued. Such a miscarriage of the legal requirements allows the survey to be carried out without obtaining proper data on dolphin distribution and habitat use and without required pre-, during and post-survey monitoring as required in Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment for the Program of exploration and production of hydrocarbons offshore Montenegro and many international agreements further restricting real impact assessment analysis.

Fortunately, data from previous surveys and research carried out by the Blue World Institute (BWI) in the Adriatic, results of the aerial surveys carried out in 2010 and 2013 by BWI and partners, and the 2018 ACCOBAMS Aerial Survey Initiative (ASI) and acoustic data recorded by a HARP placed in the off-shore area near Dubrovnik will serve as a real “initial status” to assess the impact of seismic surveying carried out in Montenegro.