The respected Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa has called on the African National Congress government to immediately halt all seismic exploration off the nation's coastline citing recent research that shows the incredible ecological devastation it could cause.
Protests nationwide are planned for December 5.
Even South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has called for the exploration campaign to be reconsidered.
The surveys involve a towed array of multiple air cannons that will fire bursts of sound somewhere in the region of 220dB into the water at 10-second intervals for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for up to four to five months.
"One of the main concerns of people objecting to the survey lies around the issue of harm caused to marine mammals such as whales and dolphins, which use sound as their primary sensing tool," marine photographer Jean Tresfon said.
Shell remained silent on the public outrage over the exploration campaign until it was dumped by leading Eastern Cape supplier Express Petroleum, which has 35 outlets in the Eastern Cape.
Express Petroleum CEO Russell Wells told East London newspaper, the Daily Dispatch, that its petrol stations were debranding from Shell because of its internal silence over its intention to carry out seismic blasting on the Wild Coast, public pressure from customers over Express Petroleum's relationship with Shell, and horror on the part of the Eastern Cape owners who are passionate about the Wild Coast.
Daily Dispatch investigative journalist Mike Loewe writes: "Both Shell and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe replied to DispatchLIVE within two minutes of each other [in reaction to Express Petroleum's move].
"In the 23 days since seismic blasting was quietly announced in a 10cm by 9cm advert in the Dispatch on November 1, Shell and Mantashe replied only once each, both saying the exploration permit was legal and democratic.
"Shell spokesperson Pam Ntaka stated: ‘As a responsible operator we share a deep desire to protect our unique and diverse environment, and we are confident we are taking great care to prevent and minimise impacts to fish, marine mammals, and other wildlife when collecting offshore seismic data. The welfare of wildlife is a major factor in the stringent controls we use. Surveys of this nature have been safely conducted off the South African coast and globally by Shell and other operators. We will also engage directly with Express Petroleum'."
Mantashe's department said it had noted concerns about Shell's "four-to-five" month seismic survey off the East Coast. The department said the exploration and seismic survey rights, along with an environmental management programme (EMPR) stating that the survey must "avoid migratory mammals" and other mitigation controls, were granted in terms of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act.
Contracted by Shell, CGG Services plans to cover up to 3500 square kilometres, from Gqeberha - formerly known as Port Elizabeth - to a point 120km south-east of Plettenberg Bay.
The NGO Oceans Not Oil said CGG's seismic would "blast … during whale, turtle and hammerhead migration season". Such surveys have a detrimental impact on marine life, it said, causing stress and behavioural changes.
The group called for supporters to register objections with SLR Consulting, which is overseeing the public engagement part of the work. It also encouraged people to sign a petition to be delivered to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy.
At the time of going to writing, the petition had nearly 59,000 signatures.
The Democratic Alliance said it shared the "grave concerns" from civil society and local residents around the seismic plans. It expressed concerns about the impact on whales.
The opposition also raised concerns that the consultants had not carried out the public engagement process properly. The DA said the community consultation on the seismic had taken place in 2014 and that there had been no follow up.
Documents from SLR say the seismic work will take place more than 30km offshore and it will steer clear of sensitive areas. The work might take five months, the consultants said, and could start in January 2022.
SLR accepted that seismic noise "could impact marine fauna in a number of different ways". However, it said that animals would need to be in close proximity to the seismic source to be injured. "With most being highly mobile, it is assumed that they would avoid sound sources at distances well beyond those at which injury is likely to occur".
The DA called for Creecy to put the seismic approval on hold. There should be an "updated, transparent and comprehensive public participation process" before it continues, the party said. "The minister and her department should be fighting to protect and conserve our fragile natural environment and not simply rolling over in the face of pressure from powerful stakeholders."
There are three petitions doing the social media rounds at the moment, through Oceans not Oil, DearSA, and Greenpeace.
It is expected that one of the largest demonstrations will be taking place at 9am in Gqeberha on December 5 at the city's popular Shark Rock Pier.
NGO change.org, in support of www.oceansnotoil.org,
has launched a petition urging concerned citizens to sign it. At the time of writing, nearly 370,000 had signed it.