Tuesday is the final day to comment on a U.S. Navy proposal to conduct training drills that could adversely affect -- and possibly kill -- thousands of marine mammals and fish off the Southern California coast.
Similar to the Navy’s current training regimen, the proposed program would involve missile and sonar testing known to be deadly to coastal sea life. The testing program pits national defense against the health of some whales, dolphins and fish. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limitations on the Navy exercises, ruling that national security concerns supersede the safety of sea life in harm’s way.
The Navy says "very few" incidents of harm to aquatic life have occurred in previous tests. Still, prominent environmental groups are calling on the Navy to limit the program.
In the Navy’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the military outlines its justification for the testing, the worst-case scenario impact, and measures designed to minimize harm to sea life.
Why test? Because "more than 300 extremely quiet, modern submarines are operated by more than 40 nations worldwide, and these numbers are growing," the report says. "These quiet, difficult-to-detect submarines, as well as in-water mines and torpedoes, are threats to global commerce, national security and the safety of military personnel. As a result, anti-submarine warfare is a top warfighting and training priority for the Navy."
“All Navy ships that deploy get critical training here in Southern California before they deploy. The best type of training is realistic training,” said Alex Stone, the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet’s project manager for Hawaii and Southern California, in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The Navy’s current permit for testing expires in 2014, and the proposed training program will be submitted to the Marine Fishery Service for another 5-year permit.
According to Stone, as many as 2.7 million sea mammals could experience temporary but nonlethal effects on their hearing and behavior, and roughly 2,000 could be injured or killed from explosive training testing.
“These numbers do not account for the extensive mitigation measures we have, such as establishing mitigation zones around sonar and explosive events that are highly effective at preventing the more serious potential injury and mortality numbers above,” added Stone. “Also, the numbers are a worse-case analytical prediction, and in decades of similar testing and training in these same areas, there have been very few actual incidents where any marine mammal impacts have occurred.”
However, environmental groups contend the Navy can do more to avoid harming marine life. The testing area is too large and encompasses sensitive habitat, according to organizations such as the National Resources Defense Council.
“It is unacceptable and illegal for the Navy to summarily dismiss what is acknowledged to be the most effective means of reducing harm to whales and dolphins – avoiding areas associated with high marine mammal density – claiming instead that it needs wholesale access to nearly 5 million square nautical miles of sea space to conduct training and testing activities,” said Zac Smith, attorney for the National Resource Defense Council, in a statement. “The Navy’s training and testing will harm more than 50 species of whales and dolphins, including eight protected by the Endangered Species Act, such as the North Atlantic right whale (one of the most critically endangered whales), blue whale (the largest animal to have ever lived on the planet), and sperm whale (including populations harmed by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster).”
The proposed testing area would extend from the coast of Hawaii to Southern California. Testing is routinely conducted off the San Diego and San Clemente coastlines. There is no testing activity directly off Seal Beach's shore, but tests could take place farther out to sea around areas such as Catalina Island. Last year, explosives testing was linked to the deaths of dolphins near Coronado.
To read the Environmental Impact Statement, click here.
To comment on the Environmental Impact Statement, click here.
To sign a petition opposing the proposal, click here.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS
Does the proposed training program strike the right balance between national security and environmental protection?