Environmental Coalition Announces Plans to Oppose Controversial Navy Sonar Program

NRDC, Pierce Brosnan, Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Other Leading Activists Speak Out Hours Before Important Public Hearing

LOS ANGELES (April 26, 2001) - Actor Pierce Brosnan joined today with a group of leading environmentalists, including NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and Jean-Michel Cousteau, to announce plans to oppose a powerful new sonar system developed by the U.S. Navy.

The coalition is urging government regulators to block deployment of the new sonar system and calling for Congressional oversight on a host of related Navy projects that could have widespread impacts on the world's oceans. It spoke hours before an important public hearing on the system with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will take place tonight in Los Angeles.

Speaking for the group, Brosnan said: "We are fighting to prevent the decline of habitat all over the world."

The Navy's system, known as LFA for the "low frequency active" sonar it employs, functions much like a floodlight, scanning the ocean at enormous distances for enemy submarines. It is so powerful that a single source can illuminate hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean at one time. At close range, the noise it produces is millions of times more intense than the Navy considers safe for human divers and billions of times more intense than the level known to disturb large whales. The Navy intends to deploy the system in as much as 80 percent of the world's oceans. But researchers and conservationists caution that the system could have serious impacts on marine life that depends on hearing for survival.

"A long time ago my father said the sea was a silent world, but we now know it is far from silent," said Cousteau, founder and president of Ocean Futures, who spoke by video. "Until we can answer the critical questions about the impact of high-intensity sonars on marine mammals, we should deny all requests to extend their use in the sea."

The hearing later today in Los Angeles will be held by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which came under fire last month for its proposal to allow the Navy to harm marine mammals while operating the system.

Today Brosnan, Cousteau, and scientists from several environmental groups called on the fisheries service to withdraw that proposal, citing unanswered questions about the role that active sonar has played in recent whale strandings. A fisheries service-Navy investigation already has established that a mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas last year was caused by a Navy battle group's active sonar system. Biologists fear that the intense sound waves produced by the sonar may have caused air pockets within the whales to bleed and that many more whales may have died in the oceans than had died, watched by humans, on the beaches.

"The recent stranding is the proverbial smoking gun," said Joel Reynolds, director of NRDC's Marine Mammal Protection Project. "It is undeniable evidence of just how dangerous and unpredictable intense sound can be in the ocean. Thousands of people in California and across the nation have expressed their concern these last few weeks, and we hope that the Navy and the fisheries service will listen."

"No one knows exactly how marine organisms experience loud, low-frequency sounds over the long-term," said Dr. Rod Fujita, marine ecologist for Environmental Defense. "But it could be like trying to enjoy a romantic evening in a dimly-lit restaurant, where people periodically rush in and shine bright lights into your eyes: The impact could range from mere annoyance to reproductive failure."

"The Navy hasn't even a workable plan for monitoring the vast majority of these impacts," said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for Humane Society of the U.S. "The system could impact entire populations of marine mammals in very significant ways, and it is likely that neither the Navy nor the public would know."

Information for National Marine Fisheries Service public hearing this evening:

6:00 - 9:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel, 9620 Airport Boulevard, Los Angeles.