East Hawaii News

Court: Navy Training Violates Marine Animal Protection Laws

April 1, 2015, 2:19 PM HST
* Updated April 1, 2:22 PM
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A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service wrongly approved U.S. Navy training exercises in the Pacific Ocean that would cause widespread harm to whales, dolphins, other marine mammals, and endangered sea turtles.

The Navy’s planned exercises involved the use of explosives, sonar, and vessel strikes over a five-year period, causing an estimated 9.6 million instances of harm to ocean mammals and other marine life.

It was concluded that the training exercises would impact millions of marine animals with injury, death, and disrupted essential habits like mating, rest, and communication.

The court decision is the result of a December 2013 lawsuit filed by Earthjustice against the Navy and Fisheries Service’s approval of Navy training in the Pacific, violating the National Environmental Policy Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Earthjustice brought the case forward on behalf of several organizations: the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Ocean Mammal Institute.

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“The Navy can fulfill its mission and, at the same time, avoid the most severe harm to dolphins, whales and countless other marine animals by simply limiting training and testing in a small number of biologically sensitive areas,” said Earthjustice attorney, David Henken.

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The groups sued because the Fisheries Service and Navy did not consider alternatives to minimize harm to ocean life.  The National Environmental Policy Act requires all federal agencies to evaluate their activities and consider alternatives in order to minimize environmental harm.  The law also provides the public with an opportunity to review and comment on proposed alternatives.

Though the Navy claimed it could not avoid biologically sensitive areas in its training exercises, the judge concluded that it “made no sense given the size of the ocean area involved.”

The ruling found that the Fisheries Service violated its legal obligations under federal law to prevent harm to endangered marine mammals.

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“This is an important victory for our oceans,” said Marsha Green, president of Ocean Mammal Institute. “The Navy can, and must, find ways to accomplish its mission that reduce the amount of deafening noise that prevents marine mammals from communicating, navigating, feeding and finding mates.”

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