Navy’s Open-Sea Sonar Range Called Off the Mark

November 28th, 2005 - by admin

– 2005-11-28 00:28:19

Sonar Range Called Off the Mark Patricia Smith / Daily News

MOREHEAD CITY (November 18, 2005) — North Carolinians told Navy officials that they missed the mark with a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed anti-submarine training range off Camp Lejeune. Almost all who spoke at a public hearing on the subject Thursday in Morehead City said the draft EIS needs more work.

“If we could actually do this in an environmentally responsible manner, then I would have no problem with it,” said David Shiffman, a student at Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort. “But I think we have a long way to go.” Many of the speakers disagreed with a conclusion in the draft EIS that the concentrated use of sonar would not significantly affect fish or fish habitat.

“As charter boat captains, we have witnessed a complete shutdown of fishing in this area while the Navy was conducting training,” said Stephen Draughon, a Morehead City charter boat captain who spoke on behalf of North Carolina Watermen United.

A great deal of the economy in eastern North Carolina depends on fish like tuna, dolphin, wahoo and billfish, said Steve Tulevech, owner of Town Creek Marina in Beaufort.

The fishermen who use his docks spends thousands of dollars trying to minimize the sounds coming from their boats so as not to scare the fish, Tulevech said. “I find it very hard to think that that ping development will not have an impact on these pelagic finfish,” Tulevech said.

Joe Luczkovich, an East Carolina University professor of marine biology and expert in fish acoustics, said scientific studies have shown that fish will avoid the pings from a dolphin.

“It’s clearly documented in nature,” Luczkovich said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Navy, they’re good guys,” said Terrell Gould, a Morehead City charter boat owner. “But the site ya’ll picked out is bad.”

Several who spoke at the hearing took the Navy to task on other aspects of the draft EIS, as well. Mike Street, chief of habitat protection with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, said he was concerned about plans to bury cables in the ocean floor. “Trenching the hard bottoms will, by definition, degrade those bottoms,” Street said. He asked the Navy what they would do to mitigate for that environmental damage.

Others expressed concern that a proposal to train personnel as marine mammal spotters will not be enough to avoid harming whales and dolphins. “The monitoring program, at least what it looks like on paper, is a guy on the boat with binoculars,” Shiffman said.

The Navy will accept written comments from the public on the draft EIS until Dec. 28. Comments should be mailed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, Attention Keith Jenkins, Code EV21KJ, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. 23508-1278 or faxed to (757) 322-4894.

Nonprofit Warns Navy on Sonar Range Kate Wiltrout / The Virginian-Pilot

(November 23, 2005) — Nine years after first proposing the project, the Navy is forging ahead with plans for a sonar training range off the coast of North Carolina.

However, the delay hasn’t necessarily helped its case as a national environmental group released a report this week urging caution in exposing marine life to underwater noise.

The 63-page study by the non profit group Natural Resources Defense Council cited a dozen whale strandings worldwide in the past decade that it said were linked to the military use of sonar.

The council, which has offices on the east and west coasts, successfully sued the Navy to limit its use of low-frequency sonar in the Pacific in 2002.

“Definitive information may not be available until long after critical decisions about sonar, shipping and offshore development are made,” said the report, a follow-up to the council’s 1999 study. “Protective measures cannot wait for scientific certainty.”

The report specifically cited the Navy’s plans for the range, which would be used to train to detect enemy diesel submarines, as a potential “epicenter of acoustic activity” that should be “located with care.”

The report’s principal author, Michael Jasny, said in an interview that the Navy didn’t study rigorously enough how as many as 161 proposed annual sonar exercises could affect whales and dolphins.

Jim Brantley, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, said Tuesday he hadn’t seen the report and couldn’t comment on it.

In its recent draft environmental impact statement, the Navy concluded that the species most likely to be found in its preferred site off North Carolina include fin, humpback and right whales, all of which are endangered, as well as sperm, pygmy and beaked whales.

Last January, more than 30 whales of three species stranded along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The Navy acknowledged it was using sonar offshore in the days before the strandings but maintains that its ships and helicopters were far enough away that sonar didn’t cause the whales to beach themselves.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , which investigates strandings in the United States , has yet to complete its report on the event’s probable causes. A spokeswoman for the organization said Tuesday it expects to have the report done by January.

Until it’s clear what caused the mass stranding, say those concerned about plans for the training range, the Navy would be irresponsible to proceed.

This week, the Navy finished three public hearings on the proposed range in three states. Its preferred site is off North Carolina, but it also examined putting it off Virginia’s Eastern Shore and off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla .

Capt. William Toti, head of the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare detachment in Norfolk, told a group of more than 160 people at the Morehead City, N.C., hearing that the Navy wouldn’t employ any new technology at the proposed range — it would simply consolidate training it already does elsewhere.

Similar ranges exist in California and Hawaii, he noted. “We think we understand the impacts these ranges have on the environment,” Toti said.

After his presentation, multiple speakers mentioned NOAA’s unfinished analysis as evidence the Navy might not fully understand how mammals are affected by sonar.

Frank Tursi, speaking on behalf of the North Carolina Coastal Federation , asked the Navy to extend its comment period until February to cover the release of NOAA’s stranding study. The Navy will close the public comment period on Dec. 28 .

Others questioned how the Navy would ensure whales aren’t in the vicinity during exercises. The Navy has pledged to reduce the sonar power if marine mammals were within 350 yards of ships or 200 yards of helicopters’ towed sonar arrays. To watch for mammals, it would use passive sonar and spotters.

That wasn’t good enough for some of the people at the hearing. “The monitoring basically consists of a guy on a boat with binoculars,” said David Shiffman , a student at Duke University’s marine laboratory. “This is the most technologically advanced nation in the world. We can put people on the moon or on the ocean bottom. We can do a lot better than this.”

The Navy’s environmental report said more than 90 percent of right whale sightings off North Carolina’s coast occurred within 55 miles of shore – meaning not within the boundaries of the range.

Mary Frazer , a representative of the Sierra Club’s North Carolina chapter, disputed that. She said right whales have been known to pass as far as 200 miles off North Carolina’s shore, which means they could pass through the range twice annually as they migrate.

Frazer said there is some evidence that at least a few right whales birth their calves in the waters off Cape Fear. There are thought to be fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales in existence.

Others at the hearing thought the Navy gave short shrift to the potential effects on fish. Charter boat captains, professional fishermen and the owners of related businesses asked how the Navy could be sure that its powerful sonar — used for as long as eight hours at time — wouldn’t affect the tuna, dolphin fish, marlin and other species that draw tourists to the state’s coast.

The new report asks similar questions and stresses that by the time the answers become known, it could be too late for some marine mammal species.

“The global magnitude of the problem is simply not known. … Odds are that the mass mortalities we have seen represent only a snapshot of a larger problem,” it said.

Reach Kate Wiltrout at (757) 446-2629 or

Public Hearings Set on Navy’s Sonar War PlanMark J. Palmer / International Marine Mammal Project

The US Navy has launched a new Draft Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (DOEIS) for their proposed Undersea Warfare Training Range offshore North Carolina (the Navy’s preferred alternative). The proposed training range is to extend over 500 square nautical miles of ocean to train ships and aircraft in underwater exercises for Anti-Submarine Warfare, including the use of intense mid-frequency Navy sonars “in fulfillment of the US world role and the Global War on Terror.”

Within the ocean area, the bottom would be crisscrossed with cables connecting 300 “transducer nodes” for “instruments.”

• For more detailed information, go to the project website:

• For a copy of the DOEIS, you can download a copy at:

Public hearings have been held on the East Coast, with a number of objections raised by the public and environmental organizations (see articles below). Written comments are due December 28, 2005. Comments should be mailed to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, Attention Keith Jenkins, Code EV21KJ, 6506 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. 23508-1278 or faxed to (757) 322-4894.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups are asking the Navy to extend the comment deadline, due to the holidays interfering with the comment deadline and due to the many issues raised by the DOEIS, especially impacts on cetaceans and ESPECIALLY impacts on the endangered right whale. Furthermore, a recent stranding along the Carolina coast of several species of whales and dolphins is still being analyzed by government scientists to determine the cause, although use of mid-frequency sonar is known to have occurred offshore during the stranding event. Please send your own letter asking for a delay in the comment deadline until ALL THE FACTS ARE IN.

Yet another fine mess the Navy has got us into… I’ll be sending around additional information as it comes in.

Mark J. Palmer is Assistant Director of the International Marine Mammal Project and pf Director Wildlife Alive. Earth Island Institute, 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 788-3666 x139. Fax: (415) 788-7324.