This past January, the Navy received annual renewals for letters of authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and incidental take statements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for three major training areas - Hawaii Range Complex, Southern California Range Complex, and the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training study area. Known as the 'Big Three,' these areas represent roughly 80 percent of active sonar training that takes place on established training ranges and operating areas.
The letters of authorization, issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), authorize the Navy to conduct training and other activities while safeguarding the environment through protective measures designed to minimize the potential for active sonar to affect marine mammals.
Navy at-sea Range Complexes included in the Navy's Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program plan.
Environmental Planning - In addition to completing the bulk of planning for the 'Big Three,' environmental requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, MMPA and ESA were completed for four other areas. The Navy is working with NMFS to complete environmental planning and compliance documents for six additional areas by year's end.
Investments in Marine Mammal Research - The Navy continued its partnerships with government agencies, universities, and private industry to conduct scientific research required for monitoring and protecting marine mammals during Navy operations at sea.
The Navy is the largest single contributor to marine mammal research globally. Its research program has led to significant understanding of the potential effects of sound on marine mammals, as well as general marine mammal behavior and distribution.
Marine Mammal Monitoring - The Navy developed an Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program plan in 2009 to provide an overarching framework for marine mammal monitoring on ranges, including consistent approaches for reporting and analyzing monitoring data and a review of best practices from the Fleets. In addition, annual marine mammal monitoring reports are provided to NMFS for each major training range and operating area.
'The best available science suggests that the Navy's protective measures are working,' said Shelanski. 'However, there is still much to learn, which is why marine mammal research continues to be a major priority for the Navy. We are also committed to working closely with NMFS to carefully assess the potential effects of our training on marine mammals.'
Marine Mammal Stranding Response - Navy ships, aircraft and installations have long assisted in the rescue and study of stranded marine mammals by reporting animal locations and providing assistance to the NMFS stranding response network. These efforts will be enhanced in 2010 with the signing of a Navy-NMFS Memorandum of Understanding that is currently under development. Once signed, the memorandum will establish a national framework that allows the Navy to assist NMFS in investigations of stranding events that occur on and around Navy ranges during major training exercises and in certain other circumstances.
'These renewals represent just a fraction of the hard work done by NMFS and Navy's environmental team to meet our environmental compliance requirements,' said Rear Admiral Herman Shelanski, Director of the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division.
'In 2009 alone, the Navy invested more than $20 million to improve its understanding of how sound may affect marine mammals,' said Shelanski. 'We intend to carry this commitment well into the future.'