Today, a coalition of conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, amended their complaint in a case filed in Hawaiʻi federal court last month that challenges a 5-year plan by the U.S. Navy for testing and training activities off Hawaiʻi and Southern California. The operations include active sonar and explosives, which are known to cause permanent injuries and deaths to marine mammals and sea turtles.
The amended complaint adds the Navy as a defendant, claiming that the Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they relied on a legally defective environmental impact statement to give the green light to the Navy’s plan, which the agencies admit will cause nearly 9.6 million instances of harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals—including 155 marine mammal deaths and over 2,000 permanent injuries—and will kill up to 85 critically imperiled sea turtles.
“The government refused to take a serious look at any alternatives that would reduce harm to marine animals by placing biologically important areas off-limits to military sonar and training,” said Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “An open vetting of alternative approaches for the Navy to accomplish its training is the only way to prevent needless harm to whales, dolphins, seals and turtles—and that is precisely what the law requires.”
The amended complaint further claims that, in authorizing the Navy’s training and testing, the Fisheries Service violated its legal duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered whales and turtles from extinction and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to prevent harm to marine mammal populations.
“The Fisheries Service basically issued a blank check to the Navy, allowing it to kill scores of marine mammals—including endangered whales—and critically imperiled turtles, with no meaningful limits to ensure these species will not be pushed closer to extinction,” said David Henkin of Earthjustice. “The law requires the Fisheries Service to protect these animals, not force them to play Russian roulette.”
“The Fisheries Service knows very well that the death of 17 endangered leatherback or loggerhead sea turtles would be disastrous for the survival and recovery of either species,” said Susan Millward, Executive Director of Animal Welfare Institute. “But that’s precisely what they are allowing the Navy to do here.”
“The Fisheries Service is on record saying that bottlenose dolphins in the waters off Hawaiʻi Island can withstand the loss of less than one animal per year due to human activities,” said Dr. Marsha Green, Ocean Mammal Institute’s president. “They then turn around and hand out a permit that lets the Navy kill nearly ten times that number. It’s completely unacceptable.”
“We are not asking the Navy to stop all training,” explained Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi’s Marjorie Ziegler. “We’re simply asking the Navy and Fisheries Service to live up to their legal responsibilities and avoid needless harm to whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and other marine animals.”
The original lawsuit was filed on December 16, 2013. Earthjustice represents Conservation Council for Hawaiʻi, the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute in this matter.