Increase in US Navy Activites in the FL Panhandle Likely

The Department of the Navy announced August 19, 2004 that it plans to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential consequences associated with new and increased Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City activities in the coastal panhandle region of Florida.

These activities will include air, surface, and subsurface operations including the use of sonar and live ordnance. The proposed locations for these activities are the coastal areas of the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range, St. Andrews Bay, East Bay, West Bay and beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Navy has invited comment on the proposals and AWI's legislative division attended a Public Scoping meeting  held in Panama City on October 5, 2004 to voice our concerns for local wildlife and habitat.

The Seas - over 20 different species of whales and dolphins live in the Gulf of Mexico, including five that are classified as federally endangered, like the highly endangered right whales spotted off Panama City in April of this year. There are thought to be about only 300 of these whales left worldwide.

The correlation between Navy sonar and marine mammal deaths has been publicly recognized by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Similarly the use of 'spotters' to look out for creatures, before deploying sonar or other hazards like live ordnance have been discredited by scientists as ineffective.

The shallow waters of the continental shelf are home to bottlenose dolphins, a species already seriously impacted by several significant mass stranding events over the past few decades in the Gulf of Mexico. Although red tide has been cited as the cause in most cases, the possibility of a link between naval activities and a coincidental mass stranding in March of this year is still being investigated.

The Skies Approximately 2/3 of the breeding birds of the eastern US migrate to Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The migratory route for many species includes the Gulf of Mexico. All migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Estuaries vital seagrass and saltwater marsh habitats for the federally threatened Gulf Sturgeon and the Salt Marsh Topminnow, a state species of special concern.

Beaches the only breeding and nesting habitat for various endangered and threatened species including the federally threatened Loggerhead Sea Turtle, federally endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle, St. Andrews Beach Mouse and Least Tern, and the State threatened Snowy Plover.

AWI urged the Navy to adopt the precautionary principle in all decisions relating to the introduction of sound and other man-made invasions into the environment. As the IWC has stated "measures to protect species and their habitats cannot always wait for ultimate certainty levels of scientific confirmation. In such cases it is appropriate to adopt the precautionary principle."