Up to 20 ships, 4 submarines and 40 aircraft will be exercising as part of Joint Warrior - we’ve already had a close encounter with 2 of them, as 2 fighter jets flew at low range over the top of us this week!
The exercise kicks off on Monday and lasts for several weeks. It may be operation as normal on the west coast of Scotland (we understand that exercising of this sort has been going on for many decades) but part of the exercise – including active sonar - will also occur in the Moray Firth.
As far as we know, this is the first time Joint Warrior has occurred in the Moray Firth since the bottlenose dolphin Special Area of Conservation (SAC) was designated in 2005. However…the bottlenose dolphin Management Plan that has just been released by the SAC Management Group doesn’t even consider NATO exercises, including sonar – let alone Joint Warrior, the largest military exercise in Europe.)
WDCS is involved in intensive dialogue with UK government agencies – MoD (Ministry of Defence), JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) and SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) – as well as with those scientists and volunteers who conduct boat-based and land-based observations around the coastline, as the exercise kicks off.
The UK MoD have committed to undertake some general management measures in the Moray Firth, including remaining 30 nm from the dolphin SAC and 10 nm from the Southern Trench (a minke whale hot spot). They will be conducting the following mitigation measures to protect the bottlenose dolphins: only using sonar from one ship at a time, use of marine mammal observers, passive acoustic monitoring and soft-starts (ramping up the sonar to its maximum level), as well as avoidance and shut-down procedures.
Let’s hope the severe gale force storm that we are experiencing has passed before the exercise starts. The chance of seeing any whales and dolphins in the current extreme weather conditions is almost nil and so some of above mitigation measure useless.
The UK’s nature conservation agency (JNCC) has advised that with these measures in place, there will not be a significant impact on the dolphins. Let’s hope they are right.
Countries involved in this exercise include Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, US and the whole thing is led by the UK. We don’t currently know if all countries have to apply these measures. We hope they do.
But we don’t think they go far enough. We continue to believe that the MoD should conduct a full and transparent environmental impact assessment of all the activities that take place as part of its exercises around the UK.