RIMPAC navies get go-ahead for sonar
Despite objections from environmentalists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday granted the Navy and eight Pacific rim countries a permit to use sonar with certain restrictions during war games next month.
One environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it would file a lawsuit to prevent the use of sonar.
After 10 months of negotiations, NOAA granted its first sonar permit, saying the Rim of the Pacific exercise -- the largest naval war exercise in the world -- will cause "no significant impact" to the environment.
Rear Adm. Gary Engle, Pacific Fleet director of environmental programs at Pearl Harbor, said: "Hawaiian waters offer RIMPAC participants the opportunity to realistically and effectively train in a number of maritime disciplines and exercises essential to maintaining an edge over increasingly stealthy submarines.
"In addition, they will be able to train, communicate and operate together to enhance maritime security and promote stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region."
The Navy had told NOAA that it needed to use mid-frequency active sonar during RIMPAC and that its scientific analysis showed it was "highly unlikely" that sonar would injure marine mammals.
NOAA concurred, saying the Navy's use of mid-frequency active sonar is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of threatened and endangered species in areas where the exercise will take place, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
The naval war games will include 21 days of anti-submarine warfare training beginning July 6. The exercises, Navy officials say, are critical to national security and preservation of unobstructed sea lanes.
All 35 U.S. and allied ships in the exercise will be required to reduce the level of the power of their sonar by 6 decibels if a marine mammal is within 3,300 feet and a 10-decibel reduction within 1,650 feet. All sonar operations are stopped if the marine mammal is within 660 feet.
These same precautions will be taken at double the distance under certain circumstances because of changes to water temperature where sound waves could travel farther.
Earlier this year, NOAA said there was no conclusive tie between sonar use during RIMPAC 2004 and the beaching of 150 melon-headed whales, which normally inhabit only deep waters, in Hanalei Bay on Kauai.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.