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Marine Species Monitoring

NAVFAC Atlantic Environmental Team Recognized for Seal Haul-out Count Research

Posted on February 18, 2021

The Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic “Seal (Pinniped) Haul-out Count” Team recently received the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association’s (NMFWA) Military Natural Resource Conservation Research Award for their research efforts.

The team was nominated for the award by U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF), which oversees the Stewards of the Sea program, a driving force behind their research efforts.

The award recognizes those who have contributed to significant research that has improved the understanding and management of natural resources in support of the military mission.

The team’s work started in 2014 with their study to systematically investigate seal presence at locations off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay where seals haul out, a behavior where pinnipeds temporarily leave the water to rest.

“Prior to the start of the seal haul-out project, which is funded as part of USFF’s marine species monitoring program, there was only anecdotal information on seal occurrence in Virginia,” said Danielle Jones, Marine Resources Specialist and Seal (Pinniped) Haul-out Count Team Principle Investigator. “Since this project’s commencement, we have documented and increased our understanding of the seasonal occurrence and habitat use of seals near Navy installations as well as testing and training areas that are located in Virginia.”

Pinnipeds are a group of 33 species of semi-aquatic, fin-footed mammals comprising three families: true seals, fur seals and sea lions, and the walrus.

“The team and I take great pride in this acknowledgement as the award recognizes the Navy’s efforts towards improving the understanding of marine resources in support of the military mission,” Jones added.

The data collected from the team’s research is being used to analyze and estimate potential impacts that the Navy’s training and testing activities may have on pinniped species, and to develop science-based mitigation options if appropriate.

“This project enhances our understanding of seals and their habitats in the Chesapeake Bay that support the development of scientifically informed analyses,” said Tracy Riker, Director, Fleet Installations and Environment, USFF. “As stewards of the sea, this helps us ensure our military can train and test in realistic conditions, and also enables us to protect the environment.”

According to Riker, the information provided by the NAVFAC team over the course of the project has been invaluable.

"I am extremely proud of the hard work and dedication of our team," said Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, Commander, NAVFAC Atlantic and Fleet Civil Engineer, USFF. “Their support to the USFF marine species monitoring program is a great example of the strong collaboration between NAVFAC and USFF benefiting the Navy mission."

A formal presentation of the award will take place during the 2021 NMFWA Virtual Members Meeting on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.