SOURCE: Koohan Paik (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SUBHEAD: In April judge ruled Navy training in Pacific violates laws meant to protect marine life.
By Tom Hasslinger on 3 April 2016 for the Garden Island News -
Image above: The Royal Australian Navy's first-of-class amphibious assault ship Canberra, during its March 2016 mission in Fiji will participate in Hawaii for RIMPAC 2016 exercise with integration USN's MV-22 Osprey, CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter operations. From (http://www.janes.com/article/59239/ran-to-integrate-usn-s-mv-22-osprey-ch-53-sea-stallion-on-board-hmas-canberra-at-rimpac-2016).
The Navy has underestimated the threat maritime exercises and the use sonar poses on marine life around Hawaii and California, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway in Hawaii concluded that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated environmental laws when it decided that the Navy’s training would have a “negligible impact” on whales, turtles, dolphins and other mammals.
The 66-page ruling said the Navy didn’t explore all possible safeguards to better protect mammals in the ocean, especially given the vast mileage of water that the military used to train.
“The court is saying that the Navy’s categorical and sweeping statements, which allow for no compromise at all as to space, time, species, or condition, do not constitute the ‘hard look’ required by NEPA,” Mollway wrote regarding the Navy’s stance that restrictions would hinder military practices.
“The Navy never explains why, if it can accommodate restrictions for humpback whales, it cannot accommodate restrictions for any other species.”
The ruling was praised by environmentalists.
“We’re not trying to stop all training and testing,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney representing several groups that filed the lawsuit. “But at the same time, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect all marine life.”
Earthjustice is representing Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute challenging NMFS’s approval of a 5-year plan by the U.S. Navy for testing and training activities off Hawaii and Southern California. The groups have maintained that mammals are being unnecessarily harmed, in part, because the Navy doesn’t avoid “biologically sensitive areas.”
The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to consider a range of alternatives, including ones that could be pursued with less environmental harm, when embarking on operations.
Henkin said the Navy has access to 3.5 million square miles of the waters sweeping from California to Hawaii. Some select areas are particularly sensitive for sea life, such as whales.
For example, around 50,000 square miles off Hawaiian waters could be classified as sensitive grounds for marine life, and that size can be avoided while leaving plenty of sea for military operations.
“The court’s ruling recognizes that, to defend our country, the Navy doesn’t need to train in every square inch of a swath of ocean larger than all 50 United States combined,” Henkin said.
“If we can limit or prevent training in these small areas we can limit or prevent these deaths that occur,” he added. “It’s completely avoidable ... It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
The Navy said it would evaluate the ruling before determining its next move and couldn’t comment on specifics.
“If the Navy cannot realistically train at sea, sailor’s lives and our national security will be at risk,” U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nick Sherrouse wrote in response to the ruling. “It is essential sailors have realistic training that fully prepares them to fight tonight, if necessary, and have equipment that has been thoroughly tested before they go into harm’s way,”
What happens next is still to be determined. Exercises could be moved or stricter permitting regulations could be agreed to.
In the meantime, Henkin said he will seek a court order to ensure adequate protections are put in place while it settles out.
“We would invite the government to come to an agreement without a need for more (litigation),” he said. “One way or the other, we are going to do whatever we can to make sure there is adequate protection.”
Held every two years and hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, is the world’s largest international maritime war exercise. In total, 22 nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in last year’s event from June 26 to Aug. 1.
It included live fire target practice, explosives, sonar and the sinking of the decommissioned USS Tuscaloosa 57 nautical miles northwest of Kauai.
The Navy says training will kill 155 whales over five years, but environmentalists say the numbers would be much higher. Some Kauai residents expressed concern when the training was here.
One of those citizens is Hanalei resident and marine biologist Terry Lilley.
He copied U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on dozens of emails and photos over the last year documenting what he says shows the serious damage being caused to Kauai’s nearshore marine environment, including green sea turtles, sharks, reefs and coral, by the Navy’s activities.
Gabbard, in turn, wrote a letter in October to Adm. Harry Harris Jr. of the United States Pacific Fleet inquiring about monitoring the effects of military operations on marine life.
“I am very pleased to see that the federal court looked at all of the data about the destruction of our reefs caused by the U.S. Navy war games and made the decision they did,” he wrote in an email to The Garden Island. “We now need to get the destructive activities stopped so we can start working on a massive study and coral reef restoration project.”
Sherrouse said the Navy has been training in the Hawaii and Southern California ranges for more than 60 years.
“This training and testing remains critical to the defense of the nation,” he said. “We are committed to meeting our national security mission and protecting marine life by using protective measures, working with regulatory agencies, and better understanding marine mammals through research.”
But the judge’s ruling stated the Navy doesn’t need all of the waters to still conduct its missions successfully.
She also noted the “stunning number of marine mammals” the Navy’s activities threaten with harm. The judge also found the Fisheries Service violated its legal duties to ensure Navy training would not push endangered whales and turtles to extinction.
“No restriction of any kind is even hypothesized,” Mollway wrote of the Navy’s stance. “Again, the breathtaking assertions allow for no limitation at all, but this makes no sense given the size of the ocean area involved.”
No Scientific Evidence
SUBHEAD: Navy says military exercises not harmful to marine life, but others disagree.
By Chris D'Angelo on 21 November 2014 for the Garden Island News -
The U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor says community concerns that the Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise and Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility are negatively impacting marine life are unfounded.
In early October, after hearing from several constituents, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard requested information about the Navy’s efforts to monitor the effects of RIMPAC and PMRF on the ocean and marine ecosystems.
“In response to concerns of your constituents, there has been no scientific evidence that RIMPAC 2014 or exercises at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) have caused damage to marine life,” USPF Commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. wrote in a response to Gabbard.
In his three-page letter, Harris discussed the aggressive steps taken by the Navy to avoid harming marine mammals, sea turtles and corals, through the use of protective measures during training, especially with sonar and explosives.
Harris also pointed out that the Navy funded over $300 million in independent research over the past 10 years, making it a world leader in marine mammal research and monitoring.
“The Navy works with regulatory agencies, using the best available science, to obtain necessary authorizations and continues to further our understanding of marine mammals through research and monitoring,” he wrote.
Others, however, say the military exercises are harming marine life.
Katherine Muzik, a local marine biologist, said it is proven — as written about in Joshua Horwitz’s book “War of the Whales” — that sonar is lethal to whales. It is only logical, she said, that it would also have deleterious, if not lethal, effects on invertebrates, including shrimp and coral, which rely on vibrations for detecting prey, escaping predators and reproducing.
“I would bet on my life that sonar is hurting other creatures,” she said. “We don’t have the proof, but the absence of proof doesn’t mean it’s an absence of fact.”
Muzik said that with so many factors already damaging the marine environment — warming ocean temperatures, acidification and pollution — for the U.S. military to insist on purposefully, knowingly and deliberately maiming and killing marine life in the name of practice is unacceptable and tragic.
In August 2013, a pair of environmental impact statements detailed that U.S. Navy training and testing activities could inadvertently kill hundreds of whales and dolphins — an injure thousands more — between 2014 and 2018. The studies included waters off the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California and Hawaii.
Most of the deaths — as many as 155 off Hawaii and Southern California — would come from detonating underwater explosives, while some could be caused by sonar testing or animals being struck by ships. In addition to deaths, the EIS report said the activities off Hawaii and Southern California could cause 2,039 serious injuries, 1.86 million temporary injuries and 7.7 million instances of behavioral change.
“I think it’s bogus when they say they have a lookout,” Muzik said. “I think the truth is there are animals there, they know there are animals there, and they are allowed to take them.”
Held every two years and hosted by the Pacific Fleet, RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime war exercise. In total, 22 nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in this year’s event, which lasted from June 26 to Aug. 1 and included live fire target practice and the sinking of the decommissioned USS Tuscaloosa 57 nautical miles northwest of Kauai.
The drills take place in the Hawaii Operating Area and several off-shore ranges, including PMRF.
Harris told Gabbard there are steps the Navy must take to minimize harm to the environment — per environmental laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act — during its trainings, including RIMPAC.
Before each RIMPAC, Harris wrote, the Navy briefs participating U.S. and foreign units about protective measures, as well as reminds service members to avoid interaction with sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, dolphins, coral reefs and Essential Fish Habitats.
Additionally, Navy officials complete Marine Species Awareness Training and units are required to report sonar use and submit daily marine mammal sighting reports.
Prior to and during training with sonar, the Navy uses trained, qualified lookouts to search the area for marine mammals, according to Harris. If one is sighted within 1,000 yards, sonar transmissions are reduced. Within 200 yards, sonar is shut down completely.
“Safety zones are also established to protect marine life from the effects of explosive and non-explosive munitions,” he wrote.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Gabbard said she has been “deeply concerned about the scope of devastation” of Kauai’s coral reefs, which continue to suffer from an outbreak of black band coral disease. Over the past year, she said she has reached out to experts in marine biology, local and federal officials, and the U.S. military to ask about potential causes and how the disease can be stopped.
“The broader scientific community does not point to the U.S. Navy as the cause of this coral disease,” Gabbard wrote to The Garden Island. “Rather, experts agree it likely is a combination of runoff, growing population and development, and overfishing, among other cited causes.”
Gordon LaBedz of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter, which sued the Navy over the 2006 RIMPAC exercises, described Harris’ response letter as “100 percent predictable,” and said he puts the Navy right up there will the commercial fishing industry in terms of the world’s most environmentally destructive entities.
“In my 30 years of suing the Navy, I’ve never experienced them as good stewards of the environment,” he said.
As for Harris’ comments about there being no evidence, LaBedz said it bothers him. When a whale dies, it sinks. It doesn’t float on the surface where it can be found, he said.
In his letter, Harris also addressed a situation in July in which a 16-foot sub adult pilot whale washed ashore and died in Hanalei Bay. In response, the Navy conducted an aerial survey in accordance with the Pacific Fleet’s Stranding Response Plan.
While LaBedz said he is convinced that whale died as a result of sonar, Harris said, “To date, there is no evidence of a connection to Navy.”
When asked how someone would obtain the scientific evidence referenced by Harris, and what that evidence might be, or look like, Pacific Fleet spokesman Mark Matsunaga wrote, “The Navy uses the best available science in its environmental analysis and lists these references at the end of each resource section of our EISs,” and referred TGI to a series of websites, including www.hstteis.com.
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