BRUNSWICK, Ga. (CN) – A dozen conservation groups say the Navy’s plan to build a $100 million Undersea Warfare Training Range next to the only known calving ground for the North Atlantic right whale threatens the already the critically endangered mammal.
Defenders of Wildlife and 11 other conservation groups sued the Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Secretary of Commerce in Federal Court.
“Right whales shouldn’t be subjected to the threats that accompany this range – ship strikes, entanglement and noise disturbance – in the only place in the world where vulnerable females give birth to and care for their calves,” said Catherine Wannamaker, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center. “While we recognize the Navy’s need to train, there are ways to accommodate that need without introducing multiple risks of harm into such a sensitive area.”
The training range, which will include an underwater system of cables, nodes and other instruments more than 500 square nautical miles in size, will host hundreds of training exercises involving multiple ships, aircraft and submarines each year for 20 years, according to the complaint.
The defendant agencies approved the construction despite admitting that more environmental information is needed, the environmental groups say. That violates the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Endangered Species Act, according to the complaint.
“There is no dispute that construction and operation of the training range poses multiple several threats to marine species, from collisions of endangered whales with fast-moving ships, to entanglements of marine mammals and sea turtles in range equipment, to widespread disruption of species from the extensive, year-round use of high-intensity sonar systems during training,” the complaint states.
The loss of even a single right whale, particularly a mature female, could lead to the species’ extinction, according to the complaint.
The site for the training range was chosen although four suitable alternative sites not next to the critical calving ground were considered.
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Navy violated the NEPA, and the biological opinion of the NMFS violates the APA and ESA.
Plaintiffs include the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Southern Environmental Law Center, Earthjustice, and The Humane Society of the United States. They are represented by Catherine Wannamker with the Southern Environmental Law Center and Dana F. Braun with Callaway, Braun, Riddle & Hughes of Savannah.