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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | North Coast | U.S. | Animal Liberation | Anti-War | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Navy Militarizes Coastal Waters
The US Navy’s is facing criticism for its training operations in the Pacific West Coast. Trainings include the use of sonar, aircraft and missles and underwater bomb detonations. Environmental groups says some areas should be off limits to weapons testing, and some criticize the militarization of the sea.
The US Navy wants to use nearly the entire US coast line for weapons and warfare training, including the pacific west coast. North West Training Range Complex stretches more than 134 thousand nautical miles, from the US /Canadian Border to Northern California, into the waters just off Mendocino county. The US Navy is claiming this entire area for its weapons training-that includes, under water bomb detonations and mining, and the use of aircraft, missiles and sonar. John Mosher project manager for the North West training range says the area could be used for sonar and bomb trainings.
Mosher says the US Navy has conducted its naval trainings since world war 2. According to Mosher the Us Navy has already claimed Northern California for its weapons training, but this is the first time they’ve actually mapped out the boundaries, which extends into the northern tip of Mendocno County’s coast. Mosher says most of the training occurs off the coast of Washington. But environmental groups say the use of sonar and bombs will impact the marine life that makes Northern California so special. Taryn Kiekow an attorney for the NRDC, Natural Resources Defense Council, says sonar has long range effects on marine life including fish.
“Sonar has a huge impact on fish anything from outright frying of fish eggs, to permanently damaging the ears of fish, to of course when you’re talking about underwater explosions and mining fields, the navy’s proposing outright death from the explosions.”
Environmental groups and Northern Calfornia officials say marine resources need to be protected. The Mendocino county board of supervisors sent a letter to the Navy stating concerns of the impacts on the marine environment. John McCowen, a Menodicno county supervisor, says he’s against the training.
“I’m opposed to the further militarization of the ocean. They already have an extensive training range. It’s not clear to me why it’s necessary to take further areas of the ocean and subject them to bombing and sonar and missiles and all the rest of it. None of that can be good for the marine environment.”
Pat Higgins, a consulting fisheries biologist who serves on the Humboldt bay harbor recreation and conservation district in Humboldt County says the use of sonar in particular will negatively impact migrating endangered whales. Kiekow says the impacts on marine mammals can be devastating.
“The loud noise just really disorients marine mammals who basically rely on sound in the ocean the same way we use sight . So, they use if for everything to find mates, to navigate, to find food to communicate. All these basic life functions are being disrupted when the navy’s using sonar. And then of course we see the more serious impacts like temporary hearing loss, and permanent hearing loss and then of course the most serious which is when their dive patterns become so disrupted that they actually strand themselves on beaches and die.”
The Navy has drafted 13 environmental impact statements or EIS's for each of it’s training ranges. The NRDC has submitted a 57 page response to the North West Training Range, lambasting the Navy’s EIS. Keekow says the report ignores scientific knowledge.
The NRDC’s 57 page report refers to numerous studies on the impacts of sonar on marine life, including reports from the Navy, stating that in 1999, four beaked whales stranded in the U.S. Virgin Islands as the Navy began an offshore exercise. A wildlife official from the Islands reported the presence of “loud naval sonar.”
John Mosher project manager for the Northwest Training Range says the navy has established mitigations from its sonar impacts.
“We post lookouts on all the ships when they are operating with the active sonars. These lookouts have been trained specifically to identify marine mammals, obviously if they identify them, then it’s reported and within certain distances the sonar is powered down to a lower level. Additionally if aircraft are operating if there activities that involve ordinates dropping munitions, and if these were going to go to the water or impact the water then those areas are surveyed in advance to ensure that they are clear prior to doing the training.”
The NRDC’s 57 page response also refers to a study from the federal agency, NMFS-the national marine fisheries service. Citing the NMFS report, the NRDC resonse states, "Studies have shown that killer whales engage in dramatic flight behavior in response to mid-frequency sonar Yet the DEIS fails even to consider the feasibility of avoiding the whales’ seasonal habitat. Omitting even the mere consideration of any alternative that recognizes the need to protect endangered and sensitive marine life is unacceptable." Kiekow says the Navy's mitigations aren't enough.
“They put somebody up on board who has many other duties with binoculars.
And they’re supposed to spot these really deep diving marine mammals that come up every 5 minutes to every half hour. Well, what scientific studies have shown is that only about 5% of the time do monitors actually see the mammals that are in the water. So, that’s why what the Navy needs to do is avoid the areas where the mammals are concentrated.”
The NRDC also cites a navy report in 2000 that said quote, quote, “sixteen whales from at least three species— including two minke whales—stranded over 150 miles of shoreline along the northern channels of the Bahamas. The beachings occurred within 24 hours of Navy ships using mid-frequency sonar in those same channels.”
The NRDC is requestign the Navy designate sensitive areas that will be off limits to sonar use in it's training ranges. But Mosher says because marine life navigates throughout the coastal waters it’s difficult to pin down sensitive areas.
The green party of Mendocino county has petitions to oppose the navy’s claim to use Northern California for it’s trainings. Kiekow says the NRDC is ready to take the US Navy to court again over it’s use of sonar in sensitive areas. But some think it’s silly to put the needs of marine mammals over national security needs. John Pinches is a Mendocino County supervisor.
“What would it have been like in world war 2 after the Japanese attacked us on pearl harbor if we had to fill out an environmental statement because we was going to attack the Japanese in the pacific islands? How long of a process would have taken?”
The US Navy has filed 13 EIS’s for all of its warfare training ranges, essentially covering the entire US coast line and its territories. The navy has completed 3 so far, for it’s Southern California Complex, Hawaiian Islands Complex, and the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST) Study Area, including the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Several more are in the works including, the Marianas Island complex, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport, Point Mugu Sea Range, and Gulf of Alaska.