LIHUE — Though the Air Force reduced the number of bombs aimed at a training area 50 miles off the coast of Kauai, conservationists are still concerned about the whales and dolphins in the area.
“Dropping bombs in the ocean on the Westside of our island is dangerous and unnecessary,” said Gordon LaBedz, of the whale education and conservation group Kohola Leo.
He continued: “They could use smoke bombs that would be much less dangerous, and probably cheaper.”
A five-year munitions-testing plan has been in the works for the Air Force, set to begin in 2018 in about 15,000 feet of water off the coast of Kauai. On Aug. 11, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved it, with a “finding of no significant impact”.
And a reduction in the number of bombs dropped and an increase in monitoring are two changes the Air Force made to the practice proposal before it was approved.
Another change limited training in 2017 will be to one day and a limit for the number of bombs was set at eight.
The total number of bombs was reduced by 40 percent, according to the finding, and the number of days within a five-day time period was limited at four.
Between 2018 and 2021, the Air Force says it will be dropping between 38 and 64 munitions annually over the water and through the year 2022 training will happen on weekdays from June through August, and September through November.
And the public shouldn’t see too much of a difference in daily activities while the training is happening, according to Amanda Farr, U.S. Air Force spokeswoman.
“It is not expected for the public to experience an increase in noise level above what is already experienced due to current operations by the Navy or by Hickam Air Force Base,” Farr told TGI.
Injury and disturbance to whales, dolphins and other cetaceans in the area are the main concerns for conservationists, and many have banded together under Earthjustice to legal assistance in opposing the plan.
In June, the nonprofit environmental law firm sent a notice to NMFS, stating the training exercise will violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The act only allows the injury or death of marine mammals with the approval of the fisheries service through an incidental take permit, and categorizes potential impacts to cetaceans.
No deaths or serious injuries are anticipated during the five-year exercise, according to the NMFS finding.
But, annually the Air Force has projected the potential injury of 18 dwarf sperm whales and 30 other whales and dolphins due to the training.
Almost 1,200 instances of disruption in behavior patterns have been predicted.
The number of bombs being deployed has been reduced and monitoring of potential hazards to marine mammals has increased, members of Kohola Leo and other conservationist groups are skeptical.
“NOAA Fisheries always rubber stamps military war preparations,” LaBedz said. “This project is a waste of taxpayer money (and it’s) murderous to the whales and ocean life.”