LIHUE, Hawaii — The National Marine Fisheries Service has approved a five-year Air Force plan for bombing practice at sea off the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.
The plan reduces the munitions used and increases monitoring for impacts to whales and dolphins.
Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who previously criticized the plan as not doing enough to protect marine mammals, said Tuesday the Air Force “did beef up the monitoring, which is a positive development.”
Monitoring measures will include delaying exercises if a marine animal is observed within an exclusion zone to avoid exposure to levels of explosives likely to result in injury or death, and shifting the target site as far as possible from an observed marine mammal’s location.
The Air Force said it needs the annual at-sea training at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility until Aug. 20, 2022, due to unspecified national security threats with increased air-to-surface exercises directed by the Pentagon, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.
The Air Force also previously said each long-range strike mission would happen over no more than five consecutive annually with about 110 bombs released each time. The impact area is approximately 50 miles off Kauai in waters 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) deep.
A “finding of no significant impact” signed by the Fisheries Service on Aug. 11 said that in 2017 training would only occur on one day and include eight small-diameter bombs.
“In future years, the number (and) type of munitions are reduced by 40 percent with a maximum of four days of training occurring over a five-day time period,” the finding said. Between 38 and 64 weapons would be released annually between 2018 and 2021.
The training for 2018 through 2022 would be conducted on weekdays between June and August, or September through November.
Earthjustice, an environmental group, put the fisheries service on notice in June that it believed the federal regulations proposed at the time for the bombing practice violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The fisheries service said it was issuing the “letter of authorization” for the Air Force to go forward with the training after the Air Force decreased the number of munitions it plans to deploy annually, reducing the level of harassment for marine life.
The agency said it worked with the Air Force “to develop a comprehensive marine mammal mitigation and monitoring plan designed to decrease potential impacts to marine mammals.”