As if the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet hasn’t experienced enough mishaps in the last seven months with regard to coral reefs, two AV-8b Harrier aircraft had to drop four bombs off the coast of Queensland, Australia July 20 as the jets ran low on fuel, previously unable to drop the bombs during a planned training mission.
According to a U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet Command press release, the area in which the bombs were dropped was 16 nautical miles south of Bell Cay in the Grat Barrier Reef Marine Park. The two jets dropped a total of four bombs, none which exploded so the jets could land safely during the training exercise. The navy reported that the bombs were jettisoned in a channel, 50 to 60 meters deep and away from the reef to minimize any reef damage that may have occurred.
A National Geographic news item on the bomb drop, Australians seem incensed. Felicity Wishar of the Australian Marine Conservation Society said the training in the area should stop. It’s not just the bombs. It’s all the ship movement and aircraft noise,” she told National Geographic. “All of these things are not a normal part of that particular environment.” Australian Sen. Larissa Waters said the drops were outrageous. “Have we gone completely mad?” Waters told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”
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The U.S. Navy has had another reef related mishap to usher in the new year. On January 17, the USS Guardian, an Avenger-class minesweeper ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. That reef, also a World Heritage site, was extensively damaged by the Guardian, which was eventually dismantled into three sections and removed from the reef. The initial damage to the reef was pegged at around 4,000 square meters, but a survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Philippines and the Tubbataha Management Office after the vessel was completely removed, measured the damaged reef area at 2,345 square meters. According to the Manila Bulletin, four officers were relieved of duty due to the grounding, with the U.S. Navy saying that they did not adhere to standard US Navy navigation procedures.