The Ninth Circuit court ruled on Friday that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) had illegally approved a permit authorizing the Navy to use its long-range sonar, called low-frequency active sonar (or LFA), in more than 70 percent of the world’s oceans.
The case against the Fisheries Service was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), The Humane Society of the United States, Cetacean Society International, League for Coastal Protection, Ocean Futures Society and its President Jean-Michel Cousteau, and Michael Stocker, a bioacoustician and director of Ocean Conservation Research in California.
In its decision, the three-judge panel found that the Fisheries Service had unlawfully ignored reasonable safeguards recommended by the government’s own scientists to reduce or prevent harm from the sonar system, resulting in a “systematic under-protection of marine mammals” throughout “most of the oceans of the world”, NRDC said.
Experts had recommended that the Fisheries Service protect the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off of Hawaii, Challenger Bank off Bermuda, and other areas around the world important to whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals. But the Fisheries Service went ahead and gave the Navy the green light to operate its sonar in the vast majority of these areas, NRDC added.
Michael Jasny, director of NRDC’s marine mammal protection project said: “The Navy got a virtual blank check to operate in more than 70% of the world’s oceans, as if it were devoid of marine life. But the Court of Appeals understood that the Navy can do more to reduce the risk of its powerful long-range sonar, especially in the vast reaches of the ocean where too little is known. Ignorance is no excuse for inaction where common-sense safeguards recommended by the government’s own scientists can prevent avoidable harm.”