Background > Natural Resources
Protecting Marine Resources

The coastal and sea areas of Hawaii and Southern California are important for recreation and commercial activities, and are home to a variety of marine plants and animals, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea turtles, corals, invertebrates, sea birds, and multiple fish species.

Minimizing impacts from training and testing on the marine environment is an important goal for the Navy. In its commitment to environmental protection, and in compliance with existing laws, permits, and authorizations, the Navy follows strict guidelines and employs measures to reduce potential effects on marine species while training and testing.

Funding Independent Research

The Navy is a world leader in marine species research. For more than a decade, the Navy has funded research and partnered with universities, research institutions, federal laboratories, and private researchers around the world to increase the understanding of marine species distribution, physiology, and behavior. This scientific research helps environmental regulators, scientists, and the Navy to:

  • Better understand marine species distribution density 
  • Refine methods to detect and monitor marine species before and during training and testing activities
  • Add to the body of scientific knowledge the effects of underwater sound on marine species
  • Obtain data that can be used to model and estimate potential effects of underwater sound on marine mammals
Navy's Ongoing Protective Measures

Observing the Area Prior to Activities

Marine mammals and sea turtles can only be detected visually while at the surface, and marine mammals can only be detected acoustically while vocalizing underwater. Therefore, before certain activities are conducted, the area is scanned visually and, when possible, monitored acoustically.

Posting Qualified Lookouts

Navy personnel undertake extensive training to qualify as a Lookout in accordance with the Navy’s Lookout Training Handbook. All Lookouts must complete Marine Species Awareness Training  approved by NMFS. For specified
activities, Navy Lookouts visually observe for the presence of marine species within mitigation zones.

Establishing Mitigation Zones for Seafloor Resources

The Navy establishes mitigation zones around important seafloor features, such as shallow coral reefs, live hardbottom, artificial reefs, and shipwrecks. The Navy does not conduct precision anchoring or explosive mine countermeasure activities within these mitigation zones.

Navigating Safely

While in transit, Navy vessel operators are alert at all times for objects in their path. Operators use extreme caution, operate at a speed consistent with mission and safety, and take proper action if there is a risk of collision with a marine animal.

Reporting Monitoring Results

As part of its Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program, the Navy works closely with NMFS to coordinate monitoring efforts across all ocean regions where the Navy trains and tests. In Southern California and Hawaii, the Navy monitors marine species to better understand species occurrence. The Navy provides annual reports of training and testing activities and monitoring studies to NMFS.
Using the Latest Science and Technology

Protective Measures Assessment Protocol

The Protective Measures Assessment Protocol (PMAP) is a compliance and situational-awareness software tool that the Navy uses prior to conducting all training and testing activities. Based on the location, date, and type of activity being conducted, PMAP generates a report of the specific measures that naval units must implement to protect marine resources and to ensure compliance with mitigation requirements. In addition, PMAP also provides a map that displays the location of the training or testing activity relative to any protected or sensitive marine resources in the vicinity. The final suite of required mitigation measures contained in the Navy and NMFS Records of Decision, the Marine Mammal Protection Act Letters of Authorization, and the Endangered Species Act Biological Opinions are integrated into PMAP.

Quantifying Acoustic Impacts

The Navy has invested considerable effort and resources to model and analyze the effects of underwater sound sources used during training and testing activities. Based on recommendations from the NMFS-sponsored Center for Independent Experts, the Navy created the Navy Acoustic Effects Model (NAEMO). NAEMO is used as part of the Navy’s quantitative analysis process for estimating acoustic impacts on marine mammals and sea turtles. NAEMO factors in standardized parameters, such as marine species density, species-specific dive profiles, acoustic propagation data, Navy activity scenario definitions, and marine mammal and sea turtle acoustic threshold criteria. Additional factors, such as avoidance of certain impacts on marine species through the implementation of mitigation measures, and avoidance by marine species of the area during training and testing activities, are also considered in the quantitative analysis process.
Commercial Fishing & Recreational Interests

Ensuring Access and Public Safety

Many people in Hawaii and Southern California use and depend on the coast and ocean for commercial and recreational purposes. The ocean areas within the Hawaii Range Complex, for example, are used for a variety of commercial and recreational activities, such as boat charters and tours, canoe paddling, surfing, fishing, and diving. The ocean and nearshore areas are also used for subsistence fishing by local residents. The ocean areas within the Southern California Range Complex are popular for commercial and sport fishing, diving, and other recreational activities of social and economic importance. These industries support large numbers of fishermen, boat operators, and recreational boaters. The ocean areas of both range complexes also support other important activities related to shipping, scientific, cultural, and institutional functions.

Navy personnel share the ocean and coastal areas with the community and recognize the importance of public access. The Navy strives to be a good neighbor by maintaining access to public areas whenever possible while ensuring safety at all times. Some access restrictions must occur, however, for public safety. The Navy has designated operating areas, warning areas, and restricted areas for both airspace and marine waters to indicate where and when it may not be safe for recreational and commercial activities to take place.

Public Safety Measures

The safety of military personnel and the public is of utmost importance. The Navy observes every precaution when planning and conducting training and testing activities. Some precautionary measures in place include:

  • Ensuring impact areas and targets are unpopulated prior to potentially dangerous activities
  • Canceling or delaying activities if public or personnel safety is a concern
  • Notifying the public of the location, date, and time of potentially dangerous activities
  • Implementing temporary access restrictions to training and testing areas

These measures are intended to ensure public safety during scheduled Navy training and testing activities. These measures, along with the cooperation of the public and commercial and recreational users of the air and sea spaces, enable safe training and testing. The Navy publishes notices to mariners with location, activity, and duration information. Mariners are requested to read and adhere to the published notices.

Thorough environmental and safety reviews are conducted for all test systems. Prior to going into the water, most systems go through land-based testing, and many have been tested in smaller fresh water areas or tanks. After an initial review, modifications are made, as needed, to minimize the potential impacts on public safety and the natural environment.