2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 26 Aug 2003 19:12:02 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Federal Court Restricts Global Deployment of Navy Sonar
For immediate release

CONTACT: Daniel Hinerfeld or Andrew Wetzler at (323) 934-6900

Federal Court Restricts Global Deployment of Navy Sonar

Conservation groups say ruling protects whales and other marine life
from injury and death

SAN FRANCISCO (August 26, 2003) - A federal judge ruled today that the
Navy's plan to deploy a new high-intensity sonar system violates
numerous federal environmental laws and could endanger whales, porpoises
and fish. In a 73-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte
barred the Navy's planned around-the-world deployment and ordered the
Navy to reduce the system's potential harm to marine mammals and fish by
negotiating limits on its use with conservation groups who had sued over
its deployment.

The sonar system, known as Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low
Frequency Active sonar (or LFA), relies on extremely loud, low-frequency
sound to detect submarines at great distances. According to the Navy's
own studies, LFA generates sounds up to 140 decibels even more than 300
miles away from the sonar source.  Many scientists believe that blasting
such intense sounds over large expanses of the ocean could harm entire
populations of whales, porpoises and fish. During testing off the
California coast, noise from a single LFA system was detected across the
breadth of the North Pacific Ocean.

"Today's ruling is a reprieve not just for whales, porpoises, and fish,
but ultimately for all of us who depend for our survival on healthy
oceans," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Marine
Mammal Protection Project at NRDC, the lead plaintiff and counsel in the
case.  "The decision recognizes that both national security and
environmental protection are essential.  It recognizes that during
peacetime, even the military must comply with our environmental laws,
and it rejects the blank-check permit that would have allowed the Navy
to operate LFA sonar virtually anywhere in the world."

In her ruling (<http://www.cand.uscourts.gov/), Judge Laporte found that
a permit issued to the Navy by the National Marine Fisheries Service to
deploy LFA sonar violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA) because it did not adequately assess or take steps to mitigate
the risks posed by the system to marine mammals and fish.

Judge Laporte found that, "endangered species, including whales, listed
salmon and sea turtles will be in LFA sonar's path.  There is little
margin for error without threatening their survival...Absent an
injunction, the marine environment that supports the existence of these
species will be irreparably harmed."

In October, Judge Laporte granted a request by conservation groups for a
temporary injunction to restrict deployment under the permit.  Today's
ruling orders the Navy to negotiate with NRDC and its co-plaintiffs on
terms of a permanent injunction that would limit where, when and how the
Navy can use LFA for testing and training.  The injunction wouldn't
prevent the Navy from using the system during war or "heightened threat
conditions," as determined by the military.

Scientists have been increasingly alarmed in recent years about undersea
noise pollution from high-intensity active sonar systems, which have
been shown to harm and even kill whales and other marine life.

The mass stranding of multiple whale species in the Bahamas in March
2000 and the simultaneous disappearance of the region's entire
population of beaked whales intensified these concerns. A federal
investigation identified testing of a U.S. Navy mid-frequency active
sonar system as the cause. Last September, mass strandings occurred in
the Canary Islands as a result of military sonar, and in the Gulf of
California as the likely result of an acoustic geophysical survey using
extremely loud air guns.

Most recently, more than a dozen harbor porpoises were found dead on the
beach near the San Juan Islands soon after the Navy tested active sonar
in the Haro Strait in May.  Videotape shows a pod of orca whales in the
foreground behaving erratically as the Shoup, a U.S. Navy vessel, emits
loud sonar blasts.  Recent tests on one of the harbor porpoises revealed
injuries consistent with acoustic trauma.

"The science is clear - intense active sonar can kill whales, porpoises
and fish," said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane
Society of the United States, one of the co-plaintiffs. "The Navy must
find ways to test and train with the LFA system that do not needlessly
damage marine life."

"The public has a strong interesting in minimizing, as much as possible,
any disruption or injury to these creatures from exposure to the
extremely loud and far-traveling naval sonar system," Judge Laporte
wrote in her opinion.  "Public concern has been heightened by incidents
where exposure to another kind of Navy sonar has led to lethal
strandings of whales on the beach, as in the Bahamas in 2000."

"The court properly ruled that the permit to deploy the LFA system
violates federal law," said Andrew Sabey, a partner with the
international firm of Morrison & Foerster, which is representing the
plaintiffs NRDC, the Humane Society, the League for Coastal Protection,
the Cetacean Society International, and the Ocean Futures Society and
its president, Jean-Michel Cousteau.

"The marine environment is an invaluable resource that we all must
share," said Jean-Michel Cousteau.  "I am very pleased that good sense
has prevailed.  The court has taken an extremely valuable step to
protect a part of our life support system from destruction."

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