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4 Ocean Ecosystems the U.S. Military Uses as Testing Sites

4 Ocean Ecosystems the U.S. Military Uses as Testing Sites

The U.S. Navy has some explaining to do after disclosing that, last Tuesday, it had dropped four unarmed bombs into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the the world’s largest coral reef systems off the coast of Queensland.

“The Great Barrier Reef is already under huge pressure from mining, and now, it seems from US bombs. It beggars belief really, I thought at first that this was a joke,” said Greens senator Larissa Waters to Guardian Australia. Not only does dropping bombs pose unknown dangers to marine wildlife and ecosystems; the reefs are popular tourist destinations whose safety could be compromised.

U.S. military planes dropped the bombs after aborting a scheduled mission when they detected civilian boats in the training area. The planes had carried out “an emergency jettison” because their fuel supply was running “relatively low” according to U.S. 7th Fleet Commander William Marks.

The U.S. Navy says that it is working with Australian authorities to investigate the incident and undertake a “rapid recovery of the ordnances so they pose no risk to the marine park and stakeholders.” A spokesperson for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority claims that the dropping of the bombs “was deemed by the authority to be low risk to the marine environment.”

The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is hardly the only marine ecosystem that the U.S. has used as a testing ground. Here are four more:

1. Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay

The U.S. Navy has been developing “self-driven, undersea vehicles” — underwater drones — and testing them in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary and home to waterfowl, sea turtles and harbor seals. Propelled by flippers, the drones are currently being used to detect mines and trace the ocean floor; the military also plans to use them for intelligence gathering and anti-submarine warfare.

2. The Marshall Islands

From 1946 to 1962, the Marshall Islands and other sites in the Pacific Ocean were used as sites for atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. In 1954, a hydrogen bomb (the largest the U.S. had ever tested) was detonated off Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll. The resulting explosion was twice as large as predicted and caused widespread nuclear fallout, leading to cancer and birth defects in residents and killing one person on a Japanese fishing boat.

The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 forbade the U.S. from conducting any more testing in the Pacific. But the legacy of the tests remain: residents of Bikini Atoll sought to return to their home in the 1970s but had to be evacuated after medical testing showed that they still showed signs of contamination, from eating food grown on the atoll and drinking water from wells. The effects of nuclear testing on wildlife, coral reefs and marine ecosystem is “surprisingly absent from most literature.”

3. Vieques, Puerto Rico

Now a popular tourist destination known for its blue waters and beaches, Vieques housed a U.S. Navy base from the 1940s until 2003. After the U.S. closed the base, it was named an E.P.A. clean-up site that had been contaminated with, among other substances, pesticides, mercury and lead. Millions of pounds of munitions have been removed but much (some of which could still be live) remains on what is now a nature preserve.

4. The Coast of Southern California

The U.S. Navy recently announced that it will be conducting more training and testing in the waters off the coast of Southern California as well as on the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and Hawaii. California regulators have accused the Navy of “sloppy science” for its low estimates of the extent of harm that will be caused to wildlife, including dolphins and whales exposed to sonars. Recent research has found that such noise pollution has contributed to mass strandings of marine mammals (some of whom are scared from their feeding grounds by the sonars) and is also harmful to squids and other marine invertebrates.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is “simply not an appropriate place for war games,” Australian senator Waters said — and neither are the other marine ecosystems where the military is deploying its practice bombs and drones.

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Photos from Thinkstock

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100 comments

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6:18AM PST on Feb 5, 2014

Thank you

3:35AM PST on Feb 4, 2014

In all actuality WE the taxpayers are allowing this to happen. The military shouldn't just get loads of money without the taxpayers vote as to how it is spent.

5:33PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

The military is a uselesss death machine that could be cut down to about 5% of what it is and then put to work converting the military base lands to wildlife reserves.. have them do something constructive for a change.

3:50AM PDT on Aug 13, 2013

sad news but thanks for sharing

12:21PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

Some how big business and our government think they have all the information on everything and so they 'know all and can do all'.
I say no to all that. So far people are waking up and seeing how they have been lied to and manipulated.
No government or business has the right to destroy any part of our environment for money or control of others.
In my world, they are immoral and need to stop the destruction and rebuild it all.

4:59PM PDT on Jul 29, 2013

I am shock.

3:00PM PDT on Jul 28, 2013

The navy doesn't care its sonar is damaging marine mammals either. The whole of the US government is so arrogant and doesn't care what damage it inflicts upon marine or land environments, nor what they do in/to other nations or to its own citizens. Will Americans ever tire and stop condoning this behavior?

10:33PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

The US government gets money, to them, it's that simple.

1:57PM PDT on Jul 27, 2013

so sad, and I think, unnecessary.

8:46PM PDT on Jul 26, 2013

Ana Marija - the taxpayers aren't "willing" - most of the GOP/TP don't pay their fair share of taxes. The ones who are paying aren't asked what their money should go for.

Wonder how much unexploded ordinance is out there that no one knows about, because no one told??

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