US Navy

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Marine Species Monitoring

Background

The Navy is responsible for compliance with a suite of Federal environmental laws and regulations that apply to marine mammals and other marine protected species, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). As part of the regulatory compliance process associated with these Acts, the Navy is responsible for meeting specific requirements for monitoring and reporting on military readiness activities involving active sonar and underwater detonations from explosives and explosive munitions. These military readiness activities include Fleet training events and Navy-funded research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) activities.

A set of individual range complex monitoring plans were initially developed to address the monitoring requirements of the ESA and MMPA across the various geographic regions where the Navy trains. These plans were designed as a collection of broad “studies” intended to address questions such as whether or not marine mammals and sea turtles are exposed to mid-frequency sonar at levels that result in adverse effects, and what are the behavioral responses, if any, of that exposure. The Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program (ICMP) was created to bring the individual range complex monitoring plans under a common umbrella and provides an overarching framework for the Navy’s marine species monitoring program. Additionally, the Navy has developed a Strategic Planning Process for Marine Species Monitoring to establish the guidelines and processes necessary to develop, evaluate, and fund individual projects based on objective scientific study questions.

Monitoring methods used across the range complex monitoring plans include a combination of field techniques designed support range complex-specific monitoring as well as contribute data and information to the broader scientific community. These field methods include visual surveys from vessels or airplanes, passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), marine mammal observers (MMOs) aboard U.S. Navy platforms participating in training exercises, short and long-term animal tagging, biopsy sampling, and photo identification. Each monitoring technique has advantages and disadvantages and each method supports particular study objectives better than others. The Navy’s monitoring program uses a combination of techniques so that detection and observation of marine animals is maximized, and meaningful information can be derived to address monitoring objectives.