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Undersea Warfare Training Range DEIS Moves Site to Florida, Near Right Whale Calving Area

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A new Draft Overseas EIS released by the Navy shifts the preferred site for a long-planned sonar training range from North Carolina to Florida, near Jacksonville. The 575 square mile Undersea Warfare Training Range would be outfitted with a grid of instrumentation which is designed to provide detailed feedback during training missions using mid-frequency active sonar. The instrumentation, including passive listening devices, would also allow for more robust monitoring for marine mammals.

The Navy’s environmental analysis concludes, as it did in a similar document prepared in 2004, that the sonar training is unlikely to kill any animals, and that any behavioral disruption will be temporary and mild. The proposed site is fifty miles offshore, in an area where threatened North Atlantic right whales congregate nearer to shore each year to give birth. “We believe we’re far enough off that we’re not going to have an adverse effect on right whales,” said Jene Nissen, environmental acoustics manager for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command. Navy analysts concluded that humpback and right whales might behave differently when exposed to sonar from the range. But Nissen said the effects would be low-level, and not permanent. Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, isn’t convinced. Jasny said the 1,000 pages of analysis the Navy compiled to support its decision “makes no attempt to consider cumulative effects on marine mammals, beyond glib statements that they wouldn’t occur.” Marguerite Jordan, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency has begun reviewing the Navy’s analysis. The state has not reached any conclusions, she said. If previous experience is a guide, the Navy could run into stiff opposition from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. In January 2006, the commission told the Navy that Florida’s northern waters should not be considered for the training range – and in no case should the range be used between mid-October and mid-April, when right whale calves typically are born. “The winter inhabitants off the coast of Jacksonville include the most vulnerable component of the right whale population,” the commission said in a seven-page letter to the Navy in 2006. “The additional noise levels and increased vessel traffic could jeopardize the females and calves of a species that is already at high risk of extinction…. We believe the importance of the southeastern calving grounds to the persistence of the species renders the Jacksonville [operating area] inappropriate.” Public comments are being accepted through October 27. Sources: Virginian-Pilot, 9/29/08 [READ ARTICLE] Jacksonville Shorelines, 9/22/08 [READ ARTICLE] Charleston Post and Courier, 9/17/08 [READ ARTICLE] [NAVY DOEIS WEBSITE] [DOWNLOAD PAGE FOR DOEIS SECTIONS]


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