‘Oceans 4 Peace’ plans RIMPAC protest

LIHUE — A coalition of concerned Kauai organizations and individuals will kick off a series of public events Saturday in protest of Rim of the Pacific — the biennial international military war games — which returns to Hawaiian waters later this month.

The coalition, Oceans 4 Peace, says it is “dedicated to educating the public on the dangers of permanent war preparation and naval military harm to our ocean,” including the effects of Navy sonar blasting on marine species, according to a release.

“God only knows what they’re going to do at RIMPAC,” said Gordon LaBedz of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter, one of five organizations that make up the coalition. “The whole thing is just a nightmare when you think we’re trying to get world peace.”

Kip Goodwin of Kauai Alliance for Peace and Justice says preparing for war will only encourage more war. 

“It is time nations prepare for peace and do training exercises that build bridges instead of walls,” he wrote in a release. 

Saturday’s event begins at 6 p.m. at the Lihue Neighborhood Center and will include a teach-in panel discussion and short film.

Speakers will include Koohan Paik, a Hawaiian filmmaker and co-author of “The Superferry Chronicles” and an expert on the U.S. Military in Polynesia and the North Pacific; marine biologist and coral expert Katherine Muzik, who will talk about the affects of sonar on marine life; and Juan Wilson of the Kauai Sierra Club.

“It’s a panel discussion, so we’re looking forward to the audience’s participation,” LaBedz said.

This summer, 23 countries, including China, are expected to participate in RIMPAC — the 24th maritime exercise since it began in 1971. The drills will last from June 26 to Aug. 1 and take place in the Hawaii Operating Area and several off-shore ranges, including Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility.

PMRF spokesperson Stefan Alford said the Navy has permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct training and testing activities around Hawaii.

“A great deal of scientific analysis goes into the environmental impact statements that NMFS requires in order to grant those permits, which allow some ‘takes’ from sonar in Hawaii-Southern California,” he wrote in an email. “The vast majority of those ‘takes’ are defined as behavioral responses, where an animal temporarily interrupts its feeding or foraging. No marine mammal mortalities are projected from sonar in RIMPAC 2014 or any of the other naval exercises in Hawaii and Southern California over the next five years.”

Alford also said there is no evidence that sonar from RIMPAC participants has caused the death of any marine mammals since RIMPAC started in 1971. Whenever Navy ships or aircraft use active sonar, they employ protective measures  — including trained lookouts and designated safety zones — to minimize the potential harm to marine life, he said.

Kalasara Setaysha, chair of Kohola Leo, sees things much differently. 

“Navy sonar sound blasting is immensely harmful to whales and dolphins who need their hearing to survive,” she wrote in a release. “Some sonar blasts are 10 times louder than a rocket launch and can cause permanent ear damage to whales and humans. A deaf whale is a dead whale.”

The coalition also expressed concerns about the Navy’s plans to sink decommissioned vessels during RIMPAC 2014, saying they would be left to pollute the ocean floor. 

Alford, however, said the vessels have been “rigorously cleaned in accordance with federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements,” including the removal of all PCB transformers and large capacitors, all small capacitors to the greatest extent practical, trash, floatable materials, mercury- or fluorocarbon-containing materials and readily detachable solid PCB items.

“Petroleum is also cleaned from each vessel’s tanks, piping and reservoirs,” he wrote. “Depleted uranium has not been used by the U.S. Navy for RIMPAC or any other activity since it was removed from our inventory years ago.”

Oceans 4 Peace, which also includes the Kauai Sierra Club and People for the Preservation of Kauai, has also set up a RIMPAC hotline where people can call in and report strange or dangerous activities that may have been caused by the exercises.

• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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