Guam senators ask US to stop active sonar use

The Guam Legislature has passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Department of Defense to cease using active sonar in areas that the government of Guam identifies as critical habitat for marine mammals.

"The ecosystem of the Mariana Islands is something that has developed over millennia in very unique ways, and that our marine mammals are one part of that," Sen. Kelly Marsh Taitano, author of the Resolution 365-35, titled Prutehi i Mambayena.

"Part of inafa’maolek means taking care of i tano’ yan i tasi (the land and the sea) that have sustained the people here for countless generations and continue to do so today. More than 20 different types of whales and dolphins live in, spawn or migrate through the waters of the Mariana Islands. Our waters are incredibly significant to them and their survival,” she added.

Sonar systems was first developed by the U.S. Navy to detect enemy submarines. According to Scientific American, underwater sonar generates slow-rolling sound waves topping out at around 235 decibels that can travel for hundreds of miles under water, and can retain an intensity of 140 decibels as far as 300 miles from their source. Marine scientists say these rolling walls of noise disturb some marine wildlife.

“The damage to marine life is something already prohibited by local and federal law, this resolution simply asks the DoD to take their own rules and the intent of those laws seriously," Marsh Taitano said.

"California and Hawai’i have already made the case and been successful in limiting these types of military activities in ways that do not stop training and testing in order to protect their marine mammals. Why should it be any different for us? All we are asking for is equitable accommodation and an end to continually being treated differently and with less rights and consideration than everyone else.” she added.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. Therese Terlaje, Sabina Perez, Telena Nelson, Clynt Ridgell, Joe San Agustin, Reginé Biscoe Lee, Wil Castro, Telo Taitague, Amanda Shelton and Speaker Muna Barnes.

A community petition to support the resolution received 2,165 signatures. During a public hearing in September, the resolution was endorsed by the Department of Agriculture and the Coastal Management Program.

"While the resolution has received broad support as an environmental measure that seeks to preserve and protect our natural resources, Marsh (Taitano) reinforced the idea that there is an economic value, as our marine mammals have traditionally been part of positive visitor experiences," states a press release from the senator's office.

The senator's noted that in 2019 alone, 14 companies were identified as providing boat tours wherein dolphin watching is a highlight. Over 340,000 tourists availed these tours, which made up significant portions of their sightseeing activities.

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