Navy says Ga. training range's effects minimal
The Brunswick News, Ga.
ST. MARYS, Ga. — The Navy has released its final environmental impact statement for a 500-square-nautical-mile undersea anti-submarine warfare training range off the Georgia Coast.
The study said the range will have "minimal effects on marine mammal and other marine species populations."
"Monitoring of Navy activities over the past five years supports these conclusions," according to the study. "Computer modeling of Navy activities indicates that marine mammals may be exposed to sonar sound during training and testing; however, scientific analysis shows that the vast majority of those marine mammals modeled exposures will not be injured in any way."
Activities at the range will include the use of active sonar and explosives, as well as sonar maintenance and gunnery exercises.
Concerns about the impact sonar will have on marine mammals, right whales in particular, led to legal challenges from environmental groups. They argued the range is next to the only known calving ground for critically endangered North Atlantic right whales and it's not worth the risk to build the range off the Georgia coast.
Only about 350 right whales remain today.
The environmental groups lost their legal challenge, but it doesn't mean they agree with the study's conclusion.
Alex Kearns, chair of St. Marys EarthKeepers, is among those who say it's not worth the risk for the Navy to build the range off the coast because of the concerns about right whales and dolphins.
In previous studies, Kearns says the Navy acknowledged its use of sonar could harm or harass endangered whale species and dolphins.
"By the Navy's own admission in their two environmental impacts statements filed in May 2012, the use of sonar training and testing could potentially harm marine animals millions of times in the course of five years, so I fail to understand how they could now state that 'the vast majority' of marine animals would be unaffected," Kearns said.
"If one builds a sonar testing range in the only known calving grounds of the perilously endangered right whale, it is illogical to state that the impact will be negligible."
Kearns said mass stranding events "have been associated with or speculated to be related to naval operations, seismic surveys and other anthropogenic activities that introduce sound into the marine environment." Acute noise exposure has the potential to either directly or indirectly contribute to stranding events, she said.
"Add to this the potential for disorientation, feeding behavior disruption, calving disruption, breaching disruption, permanent deafness, etc., and the right whale is in the cross — of extinction," Kearns said.
The range is also attracting concern by national environmental groups.
"The Navy's decision to shoot first and study the environmental impacts of using this facility later simply makes no sense," said Sharon Young, field director of the Humane Society of the United States. "The Navy is playing Russian roulette with one of our most imperiled wildlife species."
The final environmental study addresses comments received during the public comment period before the plan was approved. The study is available for review online at www.AFTTEIS.com. Printed copies are available at the Camden County Public Library, 1410 Ga. 40 E., Kingsland.