IWDG concerned about French Military Exercise

The Irish Government has issued a notice warning that a French ‘missile/rocket firing exercise’ will take place in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone to the southwest of the country from 21-27 June.

The IWDG have expressed concern to the French embassy regarding the planned military exercise. Although we understand they are not planning to use active sonar, which can lead to mass strandings of beaked whales who are particularly sensitive to the mid-frequencies used, the explosion of missiles in the sea can cause local impacts.

The detonation of missiles on impact with the sea will cause a large sound wave which can esonify a wide area with a massive acoustic shock wave. How far this shock wave extends is uncertain, but it would be many kilometers from its epicentre, particularly in deep canyon systems where acoustic trapping situations can occur due the variability in the bathymetry. If missiles are used in sensitive marine habitats where whales and dolphins are likely to occur, this may lead to increased mortality.

The region where the activity is set to take place includes an area known as the Whittard Canyon, a submarine canyon southwest of Ireland which lies between the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The Whittard Canyon has been previously identified as an area of interest for the designation of a Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by IWDG and the Fair Seas campaign. IWDG were partners in the ObSERVE Acoustic study funded by the Irish government showed high incidence of Cuvier’s beaked whales and the regular presence of long-finned pilot whales as well as fin whales, the second largest animal on our planet.

As far as we are aware there has been:

1. No environmental assessment for the planned exercises.

2. No discussion with NGOs and regulators of the exercise area prior to the exercise

3. No justification for planning exercise in a biodiversity hotspot that has been identified as a potential MPA for whales by the IWDG.

4. A lack of monitoring pre and post activity

This is the second proposed exercise off the southwest coast in recent months following the planned Russian exercise and is inappropriate and potentially damaging. IWDG consider this a breach of EU Habitats Directive. The UNCLOS Law of the Sea guarantees rights of passage, however the passage must not be detrimental to the environment. IWDG recently supported the call by the ISWFO and the IFPEA for a 10-year moratorium on military exercises within the Irish EEZ due to the environmental risk to our seas.

IWDG calls on the French government to cease this planned exercise until we are assured that there will be no impact.