It sounded like rolling thunder.
At first, Jamani Balderamos wasn’t worried. Sudden, short-lived storms are common off Belize’s Turneffe Atoll, where Balderamos was leading tourists on a scuba dive. But a second rumble of thunder followed, then another and another, each spaced 10 seconds apart.
Balderamos realized it wasn’t thunder, but the tell-tale detonations of seismic airguns. Ships tow these industrial devices as part of the process for finding offshore oil deposits.
“I noticed the fish became kind of scared. They started darting all over the place,” Balderamos said. The blasts got louder. He signaled for his group to get out of the water, unsure if the airguns were dangerous. “You could actually feel the reverberation going through your body. I could feel it in my chest.”
Days earlier, on October 12, 2016, Oceana had been tipped off that a seismic ship was bound for Belize. After the organization shared this news with the public, long-simmering opposition to offshore oil boiled over into outrage, said Janelle Chanona, the head of Oceana in Belize.