In 2009 the Navy announced plans to construct a 500 square mile warfare training ground for submarines, near the coast of southern Georgia and northern Florida. Normally, this might not be a controversially newsworthy item, since the Navy is charged with protecting our shores. However, the proposed training ground is adjacent to the only known calving grounds of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), or NARW. Estimates for this species’ population go no higher than 475 animals. Thus, every birth is critical for rebuilding the numbers if they are to avoid extinction.
In 2010, several environmental groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, sued to stop the project, claiming it was too close to the calving ground and that the activities in the training range would endanger the lives of these animals. Their concerns for moms and newborns mirror the issues facing all right whales – ship strike, entanglement and noise disturbance. NARWs typically spend their lives within 50 miles of the shore.
Earlier this week a U.S. District Court judge rejected the lawsuit, thus enabling the Navy to continue with its plans to construct their training range. This Associated Press story is one of many that explain the ruling. SELC and their partners will review the judge’s decision before deciding on their next step.
If this project does happen, it will be very closely monitored by those seeking to protect the North Atlantic right whale, by other environmental groups and by our military.