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Judge to hear request to halt ocean blasting research plan

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A federal judge will hear arguments this month by fishing groups who want him to shut down a research project that involves blasting the ocean floor off the coast of New Jersey with sound waves.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp will hear the groups’ request on July 15 for a temporary restraining order stopping the project.

Fishing groups and environmentalists say the research disturbs and can possibly harm marine life including dolphins, turtles and whales. The project uses sound waves to study sediment on the ocean floor dating back 60 million years to see how sea level rise has changed the coastline. Environmentalists say this type of research has a history of harming marine life, which can become disoriented or stressed from the noise, disrupting migratory patterns, displacing them and even causing them to strand themselves.

Rutgers University, the University of Texas and the National Science Foundation say they take extensive precautions to avoid harming marine life.

They also say the research can help coastal communities understand sea level change over millions of years to better protect against storms like Superstorm Sandy. The findings could be used to help make decisions on where to elevate houses, build protective barriers, relocate critical infrastructure or retreat from certain spots.

The research has been ongoing since June 1. The ship remained at sea Friday off the coast of Long Beach Island, gathering data for the study. It was not immediately clear whether the study might be completed before the July 15 court date.

The court action by the fishing groups is separate from a lawsuit filed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which seeks to have researchers complete an environmental impact study to gauge the impact before any further testing proceeds.

Last summer, New Jersey officials tried in federal court to block the project with an injunction but lost. The project was halted shortly after it began, though, because of mechanical problems.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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