National Marine Fisheries Service has announced regulations that allow the Navy to continue testing and training activities off the East Coast as long as measures are followed to reduce injury or death to marine mammals.
Letters of authorization were signed Nov. 14 that implement the regulations to mitigate impacts to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals that may be affected by testing and training by the Navy in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Navy’s current authorization ends in January. The new authorization is for five years and expires November 2018.
The Navy requested the authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act following completion of its environmental impact statement on plans to increase at-sea training in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Area, which includes waters off the North Carolina coast, in order to maintain the readiness of naval forces.
The training involves the use of explosives and active sonar.
According to a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) news release, authorization was required because the sound generated by active sonar and the sound and pressure from detonating explosives could affect the behavior of some marine mammals or cause temporary hearing loss or injury.
The National Marine Fisheries Services, also known as NOAA Fisheries, has determined that the effects of the Navy operations would have “negligible” impacts on the species involved overall.
“Based on that determination, NOAA Fisheries is requiring that the Navy use mitigation measures and, if properly followed, expects the exercises will not result in serious injury or death to a large number of marine mammals,” the release state.
The protective measures include establishing marine mammal mitigation zones around each vessel using sonar; using Navy observers to shut down operations if marine mammals are seen within designated mitigation zones; and using the zones to ensure no explosives are detonated when animals are detected within the zones; implementing a stranding response plan; and using specific measures for the North Atlantic right whale.
However, the release states, exposure to sonar and explosives in certain circumstances have been associated with stranding of some marine mammals and injury and death may occur despite these efforts.
The final rule allows for a small number of incidental injuries to marine mammals due to sonar, explosions and vessel strikes.
The rule also includes a component that requires that the Navy and NOAA Fisheries meet yearly to discuss new science, Navy research and development and Navy monitoring results to determine if modifications are required.
The final rule is posted online at nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#afft.