LIHUE — Fifteen people sat around a table in the heat of late Tuesday afternoon strategizing.
Their goal: to organize an effective education campaign against the world’s largest international maritime event, the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise which runs from June 27 to Aug. 2.
“We need to raise awareness,” said Hope Kallai. “We need information to give out and a table at places like the outside movies they have in the summer.”
That was just one of many ideas that flowed around the table, with Kallai volunteering to secure some of those tables and make a flier educating the public on the concerns the Oceans4Peace Coalition has with the military exercise.
It’s the 26th exercise since RIMPAC began in 1971 and the third iteration of the Oceans4Peace Coalition, which works to turn the heads of the public and Legislature against the exercise.
“We are committed to educating the public about the Navy’s war games and their impacts on the ocean and our islands,” organizer Gordon LaBedz told TGI before the meeting.
“When they’re sinking their ships out there, are they checking to see what’s below?” Kalasara Setaysha asked at the meeting. “There are lots of deep sea coral species out there.”
Shyla Moon, Kauai adviser for the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, said fishermen are concerned about the impacts to stocks during and after RIMPAC.
“They bomb right where we fish,” she said.
RIMPAC 2016 added more than $52 million to Hawaii’s economy with personnel from 45 ships, five submarines and more than 200 aircraft from the 26 nations that were invited.
The 2018 RIMPAC will have 26 countries participating as well, and Hawaii is expecting about 25,000 personnel to converge on the islands.
Activity will occur at the Hawaiian Operating Area and off-shore ranges, including Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Bellows Air Force Station, Pohakuloa Training Area and Schofield Barracks, and some training events will occur off the coast of Southern California.
A Navy Region Hawaii spokesperson told TGI the majority of live gunnery and missile firings will take place near PMRF in areas “suited for the activity.”
The spokesman pointed to an environmental impact statement completed in December 2013 that analyzes the potential impacts of RIMPAC exercise activity on marine life as an answer to concerns about harming coral and animals in the sea.
“All U.S. Navy units are required to follow the same standard operating procedures for sonar training and testing activities in addition to any particular event mitigation measures,” the spokesman said.
He did not divulge the standards of the rest of the world’s Navies as they participate in RIMPAC.
The measures for the U.S. Navy include using qualified lookouts and other monitoring methods for marine animals during activities, maneuvering vessels and aircraft to avoid contact with marine animals, and establishing protective zones around detonations and ships/aircraft using sonar.
LaBedz points to a recent Navy environmental analysis, completed in the summer of 2017, of training exercises which included RIMPAC analysis, but says environmental impact statements and other studies of the activity haven’t been thorough.
“No one in the public knows exactly what they’re going to do besides their usual bombing,” LaBedz said.
Both PMRF and Oceans4Peace are spending the next week gearing up for the event, with Oceans4Peace planning showings of the film SONIC SEAS, educational events, sign waving and a petition.
Meanwhile Hawaii’s Navy personnel are looking forward to welcoming the other countries to the games.
“”We expect RIMPAC 2018 to bring tens of millions of dollars into the state again this year. Many RIMPAC participants return to the islands with friends and family well after the exercise to experience the beauty and hospitality Hawaii is world-famous for,” said Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.
He continued: “During this time of RIMPAC, Hawaii is going to be the center of the universe for understanding, cooperation and partnership, and that’s going to be great for the state of Hawaii.”
The next Oceans4Peace meeting is scheduled July 3 at the Lihue Neighborhood Center.
Jessica Else, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org