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Plans To Conduct Ocean Testing Faces Fierce Opposition At The Jersey Shore

By Cleve Bryan

BARNEGAT LIGHT, NJ – As more than 100 people gathered to oppose a geological study off the coast of New Jersey the state announced it will seek a court order to block the potentially disruptive research.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection through the state will seek an injunction in federal court Thursday to stop a research vessel positioned about 15 miles off of Long Beach Island from sending out blasts of sound against the ocean bottom.

The Rutgers University study uses acoustic imaging to create a 3-D map of sediments from millions of years ago during periods dramatic sea level rise. The goal is to gain insight into future sea level rise.

Environmental groups, fishermen and numerous politicians all oppose the project since the sound blasts could disrupt marine life including breeding whales and dolphins.

"I'm concerned about the bottlenose dolphins which are having their babies right now," says Bob Schoelkopf, founder and director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

The environmental group Clean Ocean Action organized the rally Wednesday afternoon in Barnegat Light to raise awareness to the potentially harmful impact on marine life.

"Over 17,000 have signed our petition and the federal agencies have thumbed their nose at all that public outrage and concern and are moving full steam ahead and that's an outrage," says Cindy Zipf from Clean Ocean Action.

Tuesday federal authorities gave Rutgers researcher Greg Mountain the green light to start the study.

"We are operating 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," Mountain said during an interview with Rutgers that the University released to Eyewitness News.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance in New Jersey is furious at the timing of the study since it coincides with a flurry of fishing activity.

"We're just coming into the heaviest tourist season. The 4th of July to Labor Day is the main income on most of these boats," says Eddie Yates who charters fishing trips out of Viking Village in Barnegat Light.

Executive Director of the RFA Jim Donofrio says this is the first summer since Sandy that fish have returned to normal patterns.

"The fishing is terrific out there right now," says Donofrio, "They could study the million-year-old rocks in the winter. I'm pretty sure they'll still be there."

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