Scrutiny needed of Navy’s sonar use
The Navy has issued a draft EIS concerning testing and training in Hawaiian waters.
THE Navy has launched a hefty draft environmental impact statement
aimed at allowing continued testing and training in Hawaiian waters, including increased use of sonar on large-scale exercises. The exercises should be allowed to go full speed ahead if the Navy can show that all precautions are used to avoid endangering marine mammals.
The Navy continues to deny that its sonar contributed to the stranding of more than 150 melon-headed whales in shallow waters off Kauai during the 2004 Rim of the Pacific exercises. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found last year that sonar was "a plausible, if not likely, contributing factor" in the stranding of the whales.
Cmdr. Dean Leech, a Pacific Fleet environmental lawyer, acknowledges that sonar can be a factor in such a stranding if all of several other factors are present. That could occur in some ocean areas, he asserts, but is neither likely nor plausible in Hawaiian waters.
Even with what Leech says is the impossibility of such a perfect storm, the Navy's environmental statement calls for posting lookouts aboard ships during the exercises and the use of only passive sonar when a marine mammal is spotted within 200 yards of a vessel.
Whether that will satisfy the National Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Navy five times over the issue, remains to be seen. The conservationists wanted the Navy to add spotters aboard ships, reduce sonar power when spotters' visibility is compromised and avoid certain areas. The Navy has ruled out civilian spotters aboard vessels as disruptive of chain-of-command procedures. The Navy will gather comments on the draft EIS at public hearings next month, where its proposed precautions are sure to get the public scrutiny they deserve.
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