By Pat Loeb

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBS) – Rutgers University scientists plan to explore the impact of sea level rise on the Jersey shore, with a month-long acoustic imaging project beginning June 3rd.

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Environmental and fishermen’s groups, however, are trying to stop the expedition, charging the information it will gather is not worth the risk to fish and marine mammals whose eating and breeding will be disrupted by the blasts of sound.

Rutgers Geology professor Gregory Mountain is leading the team of researchers who want to learn more about a 240 square mile area, that begins 15 miles off Long Beach Island, where they’ve previously found evidence of fluctuations in ocean levels.

“This has been designated almost a global resource,” says Mountain. “The New Jersey coastline has embedded in the sediments that is unsurpassed anywhere else…. this is where the earth has its record for us to see.”

Will it bother the fish? Mountain acknowledges it will, but he says that doesn’t necessarily mean it will harm them and the pay-off, he explains, will be invaluable:

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“This information that we’re gathering is going to inform our scientists and our policy-makers.”

Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action couldn’t see things more differently. She questions the value of the information to the discussion of climate change and sea level rise — research on which, she says, she’d normally support whole-heartedly. She believes the damage to marine life and New Jersey’s fishing and tourism industries could be devastating.

“The effect of the ocean blasting through these seismic airguns and echosounders can cause everything from ‘harassment’ to death,” says Zipf. “The information from these images does not justify the impact.”

Zipf is the driving force behind a campaign to halt the research that includes plane-towed banners over the shore reading, “Stop Rutgers Ocean Blasting.”

She’s found an ally in the Department of Environmental Protection. It’s asked for a federal review of the project and has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service not to grant an authorization needed for the study.

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