Navy 5-Year Training and Testing


June 1, 2018

The U.S. Department of the Navy submitted a consistency determination for their 5-Year Military Readiness Training and Testing Program Activities in Southern California. The training elements involve extensive use of active sonar and explosives.

Based on the Navy’s modeled estimates under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the proposed activities could result in the “behavioral harassment” of an annual average of 2.37 million marine mammals per year, and injury or potential injury to 576 marine mammals per year. Despite these numbers, the Navy asserts that the activities would not result in population-level effects to any species, and would be consistent with Coastal Act Section 30230.

In contrast, the staff recommendation found the Navy’s plan inconsistent with Section 30230, based on: the limited effectiveness of Navy detection and monitoring measures; uncertainties in assessing whether population-level effects on marine species may be occurring; and, the Navy’s unwillingness to limit, in a meaningful way, its sonar and explosives testing and training in areas of special biological significance for certain marine species (blue, fin, and beaked whales), as well as California’s marine protected area (MPA) network and national marine sanctuaries.

Staff’s proposed special conditions would require the Navy to establish larger “shut down” areas if marine mammals or turtles are sighted, prohibit harmful activities in sensitive areas, including MPAs, sanctuaries and important habitat areas, reduce activities in low visibility conditions, limit vessels speeds, improve observer effectiveness.

Given the Navy’s historic and current refusal to accept staff’s proposed special conditions, opponents – including Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Banning Ranch Conservancy, California Coastal Protection Network, San Diego Coastkeeper, and Surfrider Foundation – urged Commissioners to instead object to the consistency determination. Opponents assert that national security and environmental protections are not mutually exclusive and that the Navy can to do more to mitigate their impacts to marine life.

Ultimately, the Commission agreed with opponents and unanimously objected to the consistency determination.

Why You Should Care

When the Navy began seeking a consistency determination with the Coastal Act approximately 15 years ago, they claimed there was no level of mitigation that could be done to modify their activities and reduce their environmental impact. Since the Coastal Commission’s insistence that the Navy do more to mitigate their impacts, that conversation has shifted significantly.

The ecological harm that the proposed activities would cause in the marine environment is unfathomable. They would cause temporary and permanent impacts to millions of individuals and populations of endangered marine mammals including blue and fin whales. It is absolutely critical that the Navy recognize and avoid harmful activities within California’s marine protected areas, sanctuaries and special habitats.


Pro-Coast Vote

Anti-Coast Vote

Commissioner Steve Padilla put it well, saying that while the Navy’s activities are vital to national security and very much appreciated, they can and must do more to mitigate the impacts of their training and testing activities. National security and environmental protections are not mutually exclusive.

Organizations Opposed

NRDC, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club California, California Coastal Protection Network, San Diego Coastkeeper, Banning Ranch Conservancy

Decision Type

Consistency Determination

Staff Recommendation

Conditional Concurrence

Coastal Act Policy