By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
The U.S. Navy is moving ahead with plans to increase training between California and the Hawaiian Islands, rejecting concerns from environmental groups in both states about the impact of sonar and underwater detonations on marine animals.
A fifth of comments submitted during a lengthy public process regarding the U.S. Navy’s proposed training between California and the Hawaiian Islands focused on sonar and underwater detonations, according to the Navy’s final environmental impact statement.
The document, released last week, said another 18 percent of comments were focused on marine mammals.
Navy officials said they adjusted some of the estimated impacts “to more accurately quantify the expected acoustic effects to marine organisms, taking into consideration animal avoidance or movement and Navy mitigations,” although officials did not reach different conclusions from those in the draft document.
Navy officials acknowledge the training could have a significant impact on some marine mammals and other marine animals, but said the cumulative impacts from “bycatch, commercial vessel ship strikes, entanglement, ocean pollution, and other human causes are estimated to be orders of magnitude greater (hundreds of thousands of animals versus tens of animals).”
The Department of Land and Natural Resources offered several criticisms of the Navy’s draft document, including how the Navy counted marine populations in state waters.
“Because the Navy’s model of biologically significant population consequences of Navy activities included abundance estimates, the Navy (draft EIS) analyzed what are now considered separate populations of marine mammals associated with individual Hawaiian Islands regions,” DLNR officials wrote, according to the summary of public comments in the final EIS. “This is biologically inappropriate and does not account for the lack of dispersal among island regions.”
Navy officials disagreed with DLNR’s assessment, saying they used the best available science when analyzing impacts to marine mammals.
DLNR officials also asked the Navy to do more to clean up unexploded ordnance. The Navy, essentially, said no.
“All explosive ordnance such as bombs, missiles, and other projectiles are used outside Hawaii State marine waters,” the final EIS said. “Any unexploded ordnance settles to the ocean bottom in very deep water, making it extremely impractical to recover.”
State officials also wanted the Navy to conduct more consultation with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Naval officials said that was unnecessary.
Miyoko Sakashita, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the organization was especially concerned about the “sheer number of takes” — animals that could be injured or otherwise impacted by the training.
“It looks like it’s about 14 million, and that, in Hawaii alone it’s about a 400 percent increase from the prior activities,” Sakashita said during a hearing last year on Oahu. “And while I think it’s good that the modeling has become better and is probably a more accurate assessment of impact on marine mammals and other species, but this is a very large number and a primary concern.”
The Humane Society of the United States also expressed similar worries, state director Inga Gibson said during an Oahu hearing.
“We’re especially concerned about the potential permanent and temporary hearing loss, lung injuries, gastrointestinal injuries, and death,” Gibson said. “We understand that there’s no presentation or analysis of alternatives at this time that would in any way significantly reduce the unprecedented impacts and level of harm to these marine animals.”
Officials noted improvements in estimating possible impacts as one reason the potential impacts were so high, adding that the calculations did not mean such impacts were going to happen. The Navy’s no action alternative was a status quo level of training, with the preferred alternative ramping up the “tempo” of training in the Pacific.
“The use of sonar and other active acoustic sources is not expected to result in mortality (of marine mammals), although the potential for beaked whale mortality coincident with use of sonar and other active acoustic sources is considered,” the Navy’s analysis said. “The proposed training will not pose a risk to whales, fish, and other wildlife given that these same activities have been conducted for many years here and in other range complexes with no indications of broad-scale impacts that are either injurious or of significant biological impact to marine mammals, fish, or wildlife at those locations.”
The Navy also requested permission for two beaked whale deaths annually under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to account for “unforeseen” impacts.
Email Erin Miller at email@example.com.