NOAA: Navy training won’t alter or destroy endangered marine species

‘Biological opinion’ says species will likely be adversely affected

NOAA Fisheries has issued their formal opinion on how U.S. Navy sonar, deep-sea, and ordnance training, among others, will affect endangered or threatened species and their habitats in the waters of the Marianas.

In a 520-page “Biological Opinion,” the National Marine Fisheries Service, under NOAA, has found that the training will likely adversely affect these species—which include whales, dolphins, and sea turtles—but will not jeopardize their ability to survive or recover in the wild.

The Service also concludes that the incidental take, or the amounts or levels of “accidental kills” the Navy asks to be permitted, will not jeopardize or destroy these animals and their habitats.

Environmental groups worry that the use of extensive sonar training can result in death, permanent hearing loss, or lung injuries for marine mammals, as well as irreparable disruptions to their feeding, breeding, communicating, resting, and other essential behaviors.

With the recent opinion, a “letter of authorization,” or LOA, from the Service is expected. This will cover proposed training from this year to 2020. Current authorized takes expire on Aug. 3.

“We conclude that Navy training and testing…are likely to adversely affect but will not appreciably reduce the ability of these threatened and endangered species under NMFS’ jurisdiction to survive and recover in the wild,” the Service writes in their official opinion released June 12.

“We conclude that these activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species. The actions also will not result in the destruction of adverse modification of critical habitat during the five-year period…or continuing into the reasonably foreseeable future” given training levels are not exceeded and species status are not changed significantly due to military action, they said.

The biological opinion comes nearly a month after the final environmental impact documents for the Marianas Islands Training and Testing area were put online. It also caps over a year’s worth of formal consultation between the Service and the Navy, which the Navy began with a request March last year. The Service had proposed an extended yearlong consultation timeline due to the “complexity of the proposed action and extent of species potentially affected.”

The biological opinion also summarizes the amount of takes the Navy is asking per year.

For blue, fin, humpback, sei, and sperm whales, the Navy is asking to harass hundreds of these species per year. For humpback whales alone, authorized take levels for “behavioral harassment” are proposed at 860 per year. This is set at 506 for sperm whales, 319 for sei whales, and 28 takes for both blue and fin whales.

For the green turtle, they propose to harass about 2,099 per year. The Navy also asks for authorization to cause permanent hearing loss to one green turtle, lung injury to three green turtles, and the death of another green turtle per year by acoustic or sonar stressors.

The Navy also asks to kill one green turtle through vessel strike. For hawksbill turtles, they set harassment levels at 149 per year, and proposes lung injury for one turtle and mortality for another turtle. For leatherback turtles and loggerhead turtles, they set harassment levels at 61 and 69, respectively, per year.

For endangered coral reefs, the Navy proposes injury and mortality to the reef area around Farallon De Medinilla up to 6.78 square miles and 20.24 square miles, respectively, per year. This damage would come from the Navy’s use of highly explosive bombs, which they are proposing to increase from their current 2,150 bombs per year to well more than 6,000 explosive bombs per year.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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  • pattepareihu

    Adversely affecting all marine life in our homeland adversely affects all CNMI people’s present and future lives. We do not have the right to kill any form of innocent life. Marine life are not collateral damage. We need marine life to sustain the balance of life on land. That means we depend on them to live. Why would we want to destroy the very fabric of our livelihood? Look out there and see what surrounds us. NOAA is a federal agency working for the military, not for us. How do we know how marine life populations are really affected in toxic waters? We hear “facts” being told, how do we know they are true? There is no trust involved when the plan is to kill marine life, destroy, pollute and poison our oceans. Why would anyone believe this is a good thing?

    • Chamole

      Of course it is not a good thing. It is a disgusting, disgraceful and shameful thing. The US Military is out of control and their actions are literally turning the world against us.

      All this is happening in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument that the federal government took in the name of conservation! In the name of conservation! What does that do to American credibility?

      Add to this destruction of marine life including pristine coral reefs what they are proposing to do to Pagan and Tinian. They are literally destroying everything in their path.

  • Chamole

    Well now we know where NOOA stands. Helping the US Military destroy all the beautiful and healthy places in the world. Nice. You run the Coral Reef Initiative and the Turtle Program here in the CNMI and yet you okay the destruction of pristine coral reefs and sign the death warrants for green turtles and hawksbilled turtles. How can you stand to look at yourselves in the mirror!

    • RCGuam

      Where is your outrage when your own representatives want to kill green turtles to eat? Here is a quote from today’s MVariety.

      “Advisory Panel members from Hawaii and the CNMI recommended that
      consideration be given for a cultural take (of green turtles) by the indigenous people of these islands.”

      • pattepareihu

        We will protest this too. I didn’t grow up eating turtle. The few who recommend this are not the majority of Chamorros who have no palate for turtle meat. Chamorros have more of a “cultural take” on fruit bats but they remain protected and so should the green turtles.

        • RCGuam

          The only thing you did was write a one line protest. Nothing similar to the voluminous comments that you have written against the Navy and their proposed training. A double standard no doubt.

          • pattepareihu

            My priorities are focused on what is more challenging at this time and there will be more than four lines (most of us can count) at the public hearing. Maybe your “friends” will be there to verify. The voluminous blather is more your style.

  • Chamole

    Here’s the reality of what is happening here:

    • RCGuam

      What a bunch of unsubstantiated propaganda. There is no scientific data provided. Just wild unproven claims. Pictures of mass murders of humans thrown in for what purpose? Accusing the mainstream media of hiding the truth? Claims that organized sports are being used to distract humans from the plight of whales and dolphins? This video is something that I would expect from Russ Mason but from you? This just hurts your cause.

      Yes the Navy’s training will hurt some whales and dolphins. Those actions are within limits set by law. Work on having the law changed if you don’t like it. While you’re at it work on having the folks of the CNMI stop eating turtles.

      • Chamole

        Really. All those dead dolphins with bleeding ears are “just wild unproven claims”. There is so much scientific information on how the sonar is killing, maiming and harrassing marine mammals that your statement is laughable.

        BTW, the Navy’s plan to avoid killing marine mammals is to post someone on deck to look for them on the surface.

        • RCGuam

          You know why posting someone on deck is so effective? The dolphins, whales and turtles all breathe air. They have to surface periodically to breathe. Who would have thought that something so low tech could be so effective. The procedure is approved by NOAA the Agency who oversees the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

          The Navy lookouts must take specialized training on how to observe and identify marine mammals and then notify their chain of command. There is much propaganda against this lookout program by the Enviro nuts out there. Sort of like that video you linked to that has no data behind it. Just fantastic pictures of whale and dolphin slaughters that have nothing to do with the Navy and their training.

          • Chamole

            Uh huh. A person standing on the deck of a rocking ship is going to effectively monitor 360 degrees of open sea around him with a pair of binoculars? Come on. Be real.

            Sea turtles can hold their breath for 4-7 hours.

            Whales can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes.

            Dolphins average about 7 minutes.

            Rain, mist, waves, whitecaps, cloud cover all limit visibility. Ideal visibility is rare.

            Monitoring 360 degrees of ocean takes a long time. From the deck of a ship, an observer can probably see about 8 miles in ideal conditions. That’s a lot of ocean to cover. If he spends 1 minute per 10 degrees, thats 36 minutes to do the horizon. While watching 10 degrees through a pair of binoculars, he or she will miss out on 350 degrees. This “mitigation” by looking on the surface is a farce.

            All it takes for a Navy lookout to not see anything is a subtle “I don’t expect you’ll see anything son” comment from his commanding officer.

      • Juanita Mendiola

        I would prefer they be eaten than wasted like this. You are also a joke!

  • Juanita Mendiola

    No wonder why NOAA is named a defendent instead of DoD! You guys are a waste of tax payers money. I sometimes wonder if you were created to keep commercial fishing out of the picture so the definition of “taking” can be justified by the military since their biggest competitor, once removed, gives them more room to kill marine life! It is all a joke!

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