Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Image: Shutterstock

On Monday, July 22, the U.S. Navy was conducting a training exercise in the Southern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Australia.  The plan was to drop four unarmed bombs on the Townshend Island bombing range, but instead the two naval jets dropped four thousand pounds of metal into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Site and holds diverse and rare species of marine life.  It is considered a natural wonder of the world and is threatened by a host of environmental challenges, such as climate change, runoff and overfishing; and the military dropped bombs on it.

Even though the bombs were unarmed and dropped in 50-meter-deep water away from the reefs, the incident indicates the U.S. Navy’s lack of preparedness and shows disrespect for natural wonders.  The reason the bombs were dropped was because civilians were too close to the range site, and the jets did not have enough fuel to return with the bombs.  While the pilots may have been forced to make the choice, the exercise itself was clearly not well planned.  Parties involved in the biennial joint training exercise in Australia knew the jets would be flying over the marine park and did not make appropriate plans to avoid the incident.  Now environmentalists are outraged and are saying that the U.S. military cannot be trusted to protect the environment.

This is a disappointing setback in efforts made in recent years by the military to support the environment.  The “green fleet” has made efforts in energy efficiency and clean technology implementation, as well as site cleanup of contaminants released by old installations.  The U.S. Pacific Command leader, Admiral Samuel Locklear, has been an outspoken advocate for the environment during his tenure.  Locklear is on record as saying that climate change is the biggest threat to the world, so why not make sure to put a protection plan in place when conducting exercises so close to a global natural treasure?

The military has said it would cooperate with the Australian government in retrieving the bombs, but the publicity damage has been done.  Green party representative Larissa Waters called the incident “outrageous” and is calling for such actions not to be allowed.