RAN Sea Power Conference 2013 and the Environment.

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The theme of the 2013 Conference is Naval Diplomacy and Maritime Power Projection: The Utility of Navies in the Maritime Century, which is designed to capitalise on the presence of many foreign navies in Sydney for the International Fleet Review


The theme will examine the contemporary utility of navies as tools of statecraft, from hard and soft power perspectives. It will also explore, in a dedicated session, the notion of ‘a maritime school of strategic thought;’ a debate that has emerged in Australia in 2012, ahead of the promulgation of a revised National Security Statement and Defence White Paper.


(Excerpts from the official blurb on its website.)


What is evident from the above is the maritime or ocean component of this conference and what we worry about is that element’s standing in a progressively deteriorating situation in the Indo Pacific Oceans due to ‘the pivot to the Asia Pacific by the US military.’



The contribution of military activities to the unprecedented series of environmental crises facing the world today has been largely overlooked and, to an extent, wilfully ignored. This, despite the reality that 163 of the 192 current sovereign countries maintain regular armed forces (Westing 2000).


Often vehemently defended for their role in insuring national security, peacetime military operations, in fact, pose a constant and major health threat to the citizens of militarized countries. Yet, governments still refuse to conduct serious assessments comparing the highly actualized national security threat posed by their own armed forces versus those posed by perceived external threats.


Oceans at risk due to Naval activity:


The global military use of oceans has not been assessed although the US Navy, is known to operate in over 765,000 square nautical miles of designated navy sea ranges (Willard 2002). Naval activities, however, can affect ocean ecosystems far beyond their designated ranges.


The Australian Navy’s reach too is fairly extensive with Australia’s national interest being considered to be 200 miles out to sea from the coast of our country.  We also reach down to the Antarctic and include Macquarie Island and some other outcrops.  This spread of our perceived area is a very large part of the world’s ocean surface maybe as much as 1/6.


The Australian component

With Australia’s unique maritime environment with significant reefs both in the tropical and temperate areas is an important part of the world’s store of environmental maritime environments.  We saw during the recent US – Australia Joint military exercise that the US Navy planes bombed the Great Barrier Reef and left 4 unexploded bombs in that pristine area.


Damage to reefs dues to Naval activity:  Take this incident:

January 25, 2013 (ENS) – All of the fuel onboard a U.S. Navy minesweeper grounded in the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park was removed today without a spill, but the incident has prompted calls for better protection of the pristine area.

This incident left major damage to the reef.

But conservationists warn that large areas of the pristine corals have been destroyed as the ship’s hull grinds on the reef, while monsoon winds are making it difficult to dislodge the vessel.

“Hundreds of meters of once-pristine reef have already been flattened,” said the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines.

This type of accident could happen on our own Great Barrier Reef by a naval vessel on exercise yet the US and Australian Navies still play their war games in this area.


Affect of Naval Activity on sea mammals

January 26, 2012 (ENS) – A coalition of conservation groups and American Indian tribes today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, for failing to protect whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the U.S. Pacific Coast.

Again there have been incidents of dugong habitat being threatened by exercises such as talisman sabre which sail in and out of dugong areas without regard to this threatened species.  As well Whales use that area for a winter breaks and to breed yet the whole area is saturated with navy vessels.  The risks are there and the concerns are real yet the navy and the Government continue to ignore the problem in its headlong rush to rearm for the pivot!


The military use of the sonar system known as Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active sonar (or LFA), for example, can potentially cover 80% of the planet’s oceans by broadcasting from only four locations (Science Wire 2001). The LFA sonar was developed in the 1980s and used by the U.S. Navy to detect the presence of deep sea Soviet submarines by bombarding them with high intensity, low frequency noise. It has had a profound impact on marine species.  The frequencies that dolphins and whales use for hearing, to find food, families and direction fall within the range used by the military — 100 to 500 Hz (Science Wire 2001). Whales send signals out at between 160 and 190 db and the Navy has tested its sonar signals at levels up to 235 db. In March 2000, four different species of whales and dolphins were stranded on beaches in the Bahamas after a US Navy battle group used active sonar in the area. A government investigation found evidence of haemorrhaging around the dead whales’ eyes and ears, indicating severe acoustic trauma. Causation was established to the mid-frequency sonar used by Navy ships passing through the area (NRDC 2003). Since the incident, the area’s beaked whales population has disappeared. This has led scientists to conclude that they have either abandoned their habitat or died at sea. On August 26 2003, a US federal judge ruled that the Navy’s plan to deploy a new high-intensity sonar system is illegal, violating numerous federal environmental laws and endangering whales, porpoises and fish (NRDC


Pollution of the air, land, and water in peacetime


Consider the following facts:

The world’s military forces are responsible for the release of more than two thirds of CFC-113 into the ozone layer. During the Cold War, the US and Soviet armed forces produced enormous amounts of hazardous wastes. As a result of naval accidents there are at least 50 nuclear warheads and 11 nuclear reactors littering the ocean floor. There are more nuclear reactors at sea than on land. The Pentagon generates five times more toxins than the five major US chemical companies combined. The US military is the largest single source of US environmental pollution. The cost of clean-up of military related sites is estimated to be upwards of $500 billion. This is in addition to the bill for clean-up of former Soviet military activities – a bill still largely unpaid.


We know that the US and other navies use very toxic substances and leak them into the sea, we know that the area around Subic Bay the Philippines is contaminated with run off from the US navy activity there.


The general environment of the sea is becoming more of worry with fish stocks decreasing, reefs disappearing and the amount of rubbish and plastic floating on the sea are all having a harmful on the sea.  The extra maritime activity of the region’s navies is not helping the sea and its species and environs prosper.