Today the Navy released its Record of Decision to begin construction of an undersea warfare training range right next to the only known calving grounds for the critically endangered right whale. Hunted nearly to extinction, North Atlantic right whales are one of the world's most endangered species, with only about 300 remaining. The North Atlantic right whale remains extremely vulnerable to the continuing threats posed by ship strikes, entanglement and ocean noise - a triple threat that will be exacerbated by the Navy's disastrous plan to build an undersea warfare training range adjacent to their last remaining calving grounds.
Once constructed, the proposed undersea warfare training range will be the site of intensive, year-round exercises employing the same kind of active sonar that has caused multiple marine mammal strandings leading to injury and death. It would effectively transform the waters off the Florida coast into an epicenter of sonar use.
The Navy plans to proceed in two stages. First, the Navy plans to build a training range that would consist of a network of undersea cables and up to 300 "acoustic transducer devices" - either four-foot domes or 25-foot tethered sensors - connected by over 600 square nautical miles of fiber optic undersea cable, both buried and unburied. The range itself would encompass over 500 square nautical miles on the ocean floor. As if this obstacle course isn't cumbersome enough for right whales, the Navy then plans to conduct over 470 training exercises each year - scheduled without interruption throughout the seasons, including during the right whale calving season.
Unfortunately, the Navy's Record of Decision only addresses the installation of the range - effectively punting the question of whether the actual sonar training exercises would impact right whales (as well as other endangered species) until after public funds have been expended and the range already constructed. This is a big mistake: in fast-tracking the planning process the Navy has disregarded environmental laws. The Navy isn't even waiting to collect the survey data on right whales that it began earlier this spring. Blindly forging ahead with construction before collecting and evaluating all relevant scientific data is another big mistake, as NRDC pointed out in a joint press release issued today by several environmental groups. Rather than steam rolling ahead with construction, the Navy needs to follow the requirements of applicable environmental laws. It's absolutely imperative for the survival of North Atlantic right whales that the Navy stop, think, and get this one right.