Under the agreement signed Friday, the Navy will launch the system in about one million square miles of ocean around the Mariana Islands, avoiding to coasts of the Philippines and Japan.
"What the Navy sought - and had been permitted for - was 14 million square miles of Pacific Ocean," said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the groups that has challenged SURTASS LFA in court. "What we ultimately agreed upon, after winning the preliminary injunction, was somewhere between 10 -15 percent of that - in an area of the Pacific Ocean that our experts unanimously told us was among the least productive sections of the much larger permitted area," Reynolds added.
The NRDC agreed to the limited deployment after concluding that Judge LaPorte was unlikely to authorize a complete ban on the sonar system while the court heard continuing arguments in the case. After issuing her temporary injunction, LaPorte had ordered the Navy and conservation groups to work out a compromise that would allow testing to begin.
"The very real risk of not reaching an agreement was that the court was not prepared to order anything close to the amount of geographic exclusion that the Navy finally accepted," Reynolds explained, adding that the NRDC and the other environmental plaintiffs will still seek to get the Navy's permit for SURTASS LFA "invalidated on a permanent basis as soon as possible."
On July 15, the Navy received a permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to "harass marine mammals" in the course of operating SURTASS LFA, and was approved to deploy two ships that use the new sonar system.