A coalition of environmental groups announced last week that it had reached a settlement—after years of legal wrangling—forcing the U.S. Navy to complete a full environmental review on major sonar training exercises it conducts around the world. The groups, led by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), fear that such exercises, which have taken place without environmental impact statements previously, have a detrimental effect on marine wildlife and ecosystems. The settlement, which stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by NRDC and five other groups (the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Cetacean Society International, League for Coastal Protection, Ocean Futures Society and Jean-Michel Cousteau), also requires the disclosure of previously classified information about the Navy's sonar use. Additionally, the Navy has agreed to fund $14.75 million in new marine mammal research on the effects of sonar on wildlife.
"The Navy agrees that high-intensity military sonar can injure and kill whales, dolphins and other marine life," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of NRDC's marine mammal program. "This agreement commits the Navy for the first time to a program of environmental review and public transparency in its sonar training in an effort to shield whales and other vulnerable species from harmful underwater noise."