Exercise Joint Warrior 102 is the latest in the multi-country biannual NATO exercises which take place on the west coast of Scotland and which the UK has been leading for decades. NATO ships, submarines and aircraft will conduct Exercise Joint Warrior within the Scottish Exercise Areas from today until 14 October 2010 and it will involve the use of active sonar.
A full assessment of what environmental impacts these large, noisy, ongoing naval exercises could be having on the diverse and productive marine environment of the west coast has never been done.
For the last three years WDCS have been conducting land-based observations of the cetaceans in the Minch from our platform near Gairloch. We are hoping to encourage the Ministry of Defence to conduct a transparent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to fully evaluate what effects they might be having on Scottish marine life during their exercises – better late than never (they’ve been operating here for about 60 years so far)!
WDCS has recently produced a UK Marine Protected Areas report. This scientific review is important to our request to the MOD as it identifies some areas around the UK which are cetacean ‘critical habitat’.
Under new Marine Acts, to meet international commitments, the UK and Scottish governments have a duty to create an ecologically coherent network of well managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to deliver nature conservation priorities – including for cetaceans. It will be necessary to identify areas used for important life processes such as feeding, breeding and raising young.
Critical habitat was identified for harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, white-beaked dolphins, Risso's dolphins, common minke whales and short-beaked common dolphins. The review determined that all six of these species, and killer whales too, would benefit from protective measures put in place in the Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland, including the Minch (right here!).
The west coast of Scotland is an amzing place as those of you who have visited (or live here!) will know and it is among the most diverse and special marine habitats in the world.
If the Ministry of Defence were to conduct the transparent EIA that they so desperately need to, this would help them to plan their exercises more effectively. Ultimately this is so that they would not impact the marine environment. Whilst the MOD spends lots of money on research every year, it does not conduct baseline or impact surveys of the areas which it operates in. During Joint Warrior the sailors can not know what species they may come across or the impacts that they may have on them.