A federal appeals court has overturned a 2012 decision that allowed the Navy to use sonar for peacetime training and testing in the world’s oceans.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 on Friday that the lower court decision failed to establish means of “effecting the least practicable adverse impact on” marine mammal species, stock and habitat, as required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Natural Resource Defense Council and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2012 that argued the approval violated the act.
The National Marine Fisheries Service authorized incidental take of, or harm to, marine mammals from low-frequency active sonar use in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea for five years beginning in 2012.
Fisheries wrongly conflated the “least practicable adverse impact” standard with the required “negligible impact” finding, according to the ruling. To authorize incidental take, NMFS must achieve the least practicable adverse impact standard in addition to finding a negligible impact.
The court further held that Fisheries did not give adequate protection to areas of the world’s oceans flagged by its own experts as biologically important.
The matter now goes back to district court for further proceedings.