Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Navy sonar
plans too narrow,
say opponents

The Navy proposes to
use low-frequency sonar to
minimize harm on marine life

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent

WAILUKU >> Environmentalists say plans by the U.S. Navy to keep a new kind of submarine detection ship away from environmentally sensitive areas like the Penguin Bank off Molokai do not go far enough.

They say the proposal should include other sensitive areas worldwide, and worry the sonar devices may have an adverse impact on fisheries and marine mammals.

The Navy says its proposal to use four ships with low-frequency active sonar detection systems will have a minimal impact on the environment.

Under the proposal, the Navy plans to operate in deep water at least 12 miles offshore and would periodically emit low-frequency sounds of up to 215 decibels -- a level equal to, if not louder than, the sound of a jet airplane.

Navy officials say they will follow a procedure that makes sure nearby marine mammals are outside of a 1,000-yard radius when the sonar is used.

Virtually all of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is within the 12-mile zone.

Outside the 12-mile zone, three "Offshore Biologically Important Areas" that have been proposed for protection by the Navy include the Penguin Bank, the Pacific area known as the "Costa Rica Dome" and an area off Antarctica.

National Marine Fisheries officials are scheduled to hold three public hearings nationwide about the Navy request -- one on April 28 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Marriott Waikiki Beach Hotel on Oahu.

The others will be held April 26 at the Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles and May 3 at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's auditorium in Silver Spring, Md.

Scientist Peter Tyack said during tests in the Pacific, whales did respond to low-frequency sonar when they were within 1,000 yards of the Navy ship, but the reaction was no more than their response to a whale-watching boat.

Environmentalists say the scope of the testing was limited to a few species and the results exaggerated.

Pacific Whale Foundation official Robert J. Wilder said the testing did not include an assessment of low-frequency sonar on fish stock.

Wilder said worldwide, there are many important fisheries at risk, including upwelling areas off Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

"We strongly oppose LFA sonar. We think it's unneeded and a tremendous risk," Wilder said.

Naomi McIntosh, acting sanctuary manager, said her office is looking at the Navy's request in relation to humpback whale migration. Sanctuary officials are also reviewing the impact of sonar off Washington state and South Carolina.

NOAA Fisheries will be accepting comments on the proposal through May 3. Comments should be addressed to Donna Wieting, chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Hwy., Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin