(a) The Holder of the Letter of Authorization issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 and 217.117 of this chapter for activities described in § 217.110(c) is required to conduct the monitoring and reporting measures specified in this section and § 217.114 and any additional monitoring measures contained in the Letter of Authorization.
(b) The Holder of the Letter of Authorization is required to cooperate with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and any other Federal, state or local agency monitoring the impacts of the activity on marine mammals. Unless specified otherwise in the Letter of Authorization, the Holder of the Letter of Authorization must notify the Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, or designee, by letter or telephone (301-427-8401), at least 2 weeks prior to any modification to the activity identified in § 217.110(c) that has the potential to result in the serious injury, mortality or Level A or Level B harassment of a marine mammal that was not identified and addressed previously.
(c) Monitoring Procedures for PSW Missions:
(1) The Holder of this Authorization must:
(i) Designate qualified on-site individual(s) to record the effects of mission launches on marine mammals that inhabit the northern Gulf of Mexico;
(ii) Have on-site individuals, approved in advance by the National Marine Fisheries Service, to conduct the mitigation, monitoring and reporting activities specified in this subpart and in the Letter of Authorization issued pursuant to §§ 216.106 and 217.117 of this chapter.
(iii) Conduct aerial surveys to reduce impacts on protected species. The aerial survey/monitoring team will consist of two experienced marine mammal observers, approved in advance by the Southeast Region, National Marine Fisheries Service. The aircraft will also have a data recorder who would be responsible for relaying the location, the species if possible, the direction of movement, and the number of animals sighted.
(iv) Conduct shipboard monitoring to reduce impacts to protected species. Trained observers will conduct monitoring from the highest point possible on each mission or support vessel(s). The observer on the vessel must be equipped with optical equipment with sufficient magnification (e.g., 25x power “Big-Eye” binoculars).
(2) The aerial and shipboard monitoring teams will maintain proper lines of communication to avoid communication deficiencies. The observers from the aerial team and operations vessel will have direct communication with the lead scientist aboard the operations vessel.
(3) Pre-mission Monitoring: Approximately 5 hours prior to the mission, or at daybreak, the appropriate vessel(s) would be on-site in the primary test site near the location of the earliest planned mission point. Observers onboard the vessel will assess the suitability of the test site, based on visual observation of marine mammals and sea turtles, the presence of large Sargassum mats, seabirds and jellyfish aggregations and overall environmental conditions (visibility, sea state, etc.). This information will be relayed to the lead scientist.
(4) Three Hours Prior to Mission:
(i) Approximately three hours prior to the mission launch, aerial monitoring will commence within the test site to evaluate the test site for environmental suitability. Evaluation of the entire test site would take approximately 1 to 1.5 hours. The aerial monitoring team will begin monitoring the safety zone and buffer zone around the target area.
(ii) Shipboard observers will monitor the safety and buffer zone, and the lead scientist will enter all marine mammals and sea turtle sightings, including the time of sighting and the direction of travel, into a marine animal tracking and sighting database.
(5) One to 1.5 Hours Prior to Mission Launch:
(i) Depending upon the mission, aerial and shipboard viewers will be instructed to leave the area and remain outside the safety area. The aerial team will report all marine animals spotted and their directions of travel to the lead scientist onboard the vessel.
(ii) The shipboard monitoring team will continue searching the buffer zone for protected species as it leaves the safety zone. The surface vessels will continue to monitor from outside of the safety area until after impact.
(6) Post-mission monitoring:
(i) The vessels will move into the safety zone from outside the safety zone and continue monitoring for at least two hours, concentrating on the area down current of the test site.
(ii) The holder of the Letter of Authorization will closely coordinate mission launches with marine animal stranding networks.
(iii) The monitoring team will document any dead or injured marine mammals or turtles and, if practicable, recover and examine any dead animals.
(d) Monitoring Procedures for A-S Gunnery Missions:
(1) In addition to the monitoring requirements in 217.114(c), the holder of the Letter of Authorization must:
(i) Cooperate with the National Marine Fisheries Service and any other Federal, state or local agency monitoring the impacts of the activity on marine mammals.
(ii) Require aircrews to initiate the post-mission clearance procedures beginning at the operational altitude of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 ft (4572 to 6096 m) elevation, and then initiate a spiraling descent down to an observation altitude of approximately 6,000 ft (1,829 m) elevation. Rates of descent will occur over a 3- to 5-minute time frame.
(iii) Track their use of the EGTTR for test firing missions and marine mammal observations, through the use of mission reporting forms.
(iv) Coordinate air-to-surface gunnery exercises with future flight activities to provide supplemental post-mission observations of marine mammals in the operations area of the exercise.
(e) In accordance with provisions in § 217.118(b)(2), the Holder of the Letter of Authorization must conduct the research required under the Letter of Authorization.
(1) Unless specified otherwise in the Letter of Authorization, the Holder of the Letter of Authorization must conduct all of the monitoring and reporting required under the LOA and submit an annual report to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service by a date certain specified in the LOA. This report must include the following information:
(i) Date and time of each PSW/air-to-surface gunnery exercise;
(ii) A complete description of the pre-exercise and post-exercise activities related to mitigating and monitoring the effects of PSW/air-to-surface gunnery exercises on marine mammal populations;
(iii) Results of the monitoring program, including numbers by species/stock of any marine mammals noted injured or killed as a result of the training exercises and number of marine mammals (by species if possible) that may have been harassed due to presence within the applicable safety zone;
(iv) A detailed assessment of the effectiveness of sensor-based monitoring in detecting marine mammals in the area of air-to-surface gunnery operations; and
(v) Results of coordination with coastal marine mammal stranding networks.
(2) The final comprehensive report on all marine mammal monitoring and research conducted during the applicability period of this subpart must be submitted to the Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service at least 240 days prior to expiration of applicability of this subpart or 240 days after the expiration of applicability of this subpart if new regulations will not be requested.