KEKAHA — More than 170,000 people have signed a petition to stop Air Force weapons testing off the coast of Kauai, set to begin in September.
It was started in response to a letter of authorization request from the 86 Fighter Weapons Squadron to the National Marine Fisheries Service sent in February, which details the possibility that the air-to-surface missions could cause acoustic and pressure-related problems for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in the area.
These types of training missions have been conducted at PMRF before, and the request for an LOA is part of the process.
“The ocean and the whales need peace and quiet,” said Gordon LaBedz, chair of Kauai’s whale conservation group Kohola Leo. “(There is an) ongoing war against the ocean and whales.”
He continued: “Horrifyingly deafening sonar blasting accompanied by explosions and destruction are not going to make the United States any safer.”
Robert Zelkovsky, of Kauai’s chapter of Surfrider, said he as an individual submitted his own responses to the Air Force proposal asking them to stop weapons testing on Kauai and a few others in the group did as well.
Representatives from the Air Force did not respond to questions about the petition before press deadline.
“Negative impact of ocean noise on whales and dolphins has been well documented,” said Julie Stankiewicz, author of the petition. “Marine mammals depend upon sound to navigate, find mates, hunt and communicate over hundreds of miles. Without the ability to hear, they are rendered unable to perform the most basic tasks necessary to their survival.”
The 86 Fighter Weapons Squadron wants to spend the next five years training with the Long Range Strike Weapon Systems Evaluation Program in Pacific Missile Range Facility’s Barking Sands Underwater Range Extension area.
Using mainly bombers and fighter aircraft, the missions will include detonations of a variety of missiles and other weapons above the water, at the water surface and slightly below the water surface.
Live and inert bombs and missiles may be used, depending on the mission.
All missions will be conducted during daylight hours, primarily during the summer, beginning in September.
The impact area is located roughly 44 nautical miles offshore of Kauai in a water depth of about 15,240 feet.
“Reject a U.S. Air Force proposal to test about 100 bombs per year for the next five years in the waters off Kauai, Hawaii, a move that would harm over 600 marine mammals and deafen many,” the petition says.
People from all over the United States have signed the petition, which had 173,854 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
“We need to stop the unnecessary killing and maiming of innocent sea creatures, plus the destruction and pollution of the ocean,” one person, Diane G. from Hawaii, wrote.
Another person, Piikea K. from Hawaii, said, “Try healing with love. Aloha will save the planet and is the way. Stop killing our human and non-human ohana for no good reason!”
While some whale activists and community members are concerned about the impact training sessions have on the cetaceans that live and travel in the waters around Hawaii, not everyone shares those concerns.
In February, Whitlow Au, chief scientist of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii, told TGI he’s not convinced weapons testing negatively impacts marine mammals.
“A launch sound would be, I think, not very intense because the whale might be a mile or half a mile offshore,” Au said.
“That’s about as close as they’ll come to the PMRF launch site and the level of sounds that reach the whale might be relatively low.”
The training exercises are imperative to the nation’s safety, Au said, and the highest priority should be finding ways to train troops without harming sea life.
“These groups of people have to learn how to work together in a collaborative-type relationship,” he said.
The Care2 petition can be found at www.thepetitionsite.com/450/865/866.