Alisa Manzelli, Global Animal
Following pleas from several animal activists and organizations such as the Whale & Dolphin Watch team, the California Coastal Commission has voted to reject the U.S. Navy‘s plan to increase their use of sonar and underwater explosives during training off the Southern California coast.
Opposed by several environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace, the Navy’s plan was unanimously ruled against for lacking sufficient evidence that the threat to marine life would be negligible.
Senior policy analyst and director of the marine mammal project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Michael Jasny, said the Navy’s plans would disrupt the foraging and breeding of whales and kill other sea mammals.
While the Navy estimates that the proposed program would kill 130 marine mammals and cause hearing loss in 1,600 animals over a span of five years, Jasny and the Natural Resources Defense Council believe these numbers are stark underestimates.
Jasny and Coastal Commission members also criticized the Navy for their past refusals to follow the commission’s suggestions for mitigation such as designating certain areas as off-limits to training.
Commission member Dayna Bochco added that the Navy’s plan “seems like an extraordinary increase [in sonar and other training] when we’re at peace, in most places.”
“There are no other areas in the country or possibly the world where Navy activity will be as concentrated as here in Southern California,” Jasny said. “It will be a real train wreck because this space is also shared by so many endangered species.”
On the other hand, commissioner Martha McClure says the Navy “needs to understand the importance of the California coast in relationship to the entire world.”
While the Navy’s testing area covers 120,000 nautical square miles off the Southern California coastline and includes a corridor between California and Hawaii, Navy Commander John Doney said an increase in training is necessary in order to prepare sailors for an anticipated shift in emphasis to the Pacific region.
The Navy could now compromise with the panel or simply choose to proceed with training, as it did in 2007 and 2009—prompting the commission to sue in an attempt to block the program.
This victory is certainly far from being the end of this issue. Take a moment to give thanks to the 12 brave members of the California Coastal Commission for not “rubber stamping” the U.S. Navy’s plan.