Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

The Pentagon’s Scary Plan to Militarize Ocean Life

Animals
A U.S. Navy marine mammal handler and a bottlenose dolphin who has been trained to detect explosives at a Naval base in California. Though DARPA has said it won't use intelligent mammals and endangered species for the project, the claim is suspect given the U.S. Navy's use of dolphins and sea lions to detect underwater mines. Lt. David Bennett / U.S. Navy

By Maia Danks

The U.S. military has plans to create genetically modified marine organisms that can be used as underwater spies for the military. Fantastic as this idea may seem, the Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has actually launched a new program that aims to tap into the "natural sensing capabilities" of marine organisms, who are highly attuned to their surroundings, to track enemy traffic undersea.


The project out of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office, called the Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program hopes to use everything from bacteria to large fish to find underwater vehicles by recording the creatures' natural reactions to these vehicles and sending the data to an outside base.

A recent press release about the program said it would "study natural and modified organisms (emphasis added) to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles."

"Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone," the release said, explaining the program's reasoning. "Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains—tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark."

The program is currently seeking proposals that would help capture the responses of marine organisms—both natural and transgenic—to the presence of underwater vehicles, interpret those responses and relay them to a network of hardware devices.

It is unclear right now as to how this will happen. DARPA has stated that "intelligent mammals" and endangered species will not be used in the experiments or in the program itself, but it has been vague as to how it defines "intelligent mammals." Questions as to the involvement of dolphins and other marine mammals arise, particularly since the U.S. Navy, is notorious for holding nearly 100 dolphins captive in San Diego, conducting experiments on them and using them for military purposes.

Though the program states that if any modified organisms are used it would require "appropriate environmental safeguards to support future deployment," it is highly likely that a genetically modified marine organism released into the ocean will interbreed with an organism of the same (or similar) species whose genes hadn't been tinkered with. And as the animals breed with each other, they will cause more and more of their kind to adopt the genetically modified traits. With time, the entire ocean could be filled with GM creatures and that could lead to changes in marine ecosystems that we can't even begin to anticipate.

DARPA has said it would create and test modified species strictly in "contained, biosecure facilities." But as this VICE report points out, "to actually deploy modified species, the military would have to release them into the wild, where they could drive out, outeat, or outbreed unmodified species."

Another worry with genetically modified sea creatures is the likelihood that humans will consume them. With the amount of fishing and by-catch that currently happens around the world, it is inevitable that many people will end up consuming the GM animals. (While there has been no conclusive evidence linking GM food to negative health impacts, concerns remain that GMOs may cause yet unknown genetic changes, allergies or other serious harm to human health.)

These concerns apart, forcing these creatures to be spies for the U.S. military is inherently, morally wrong. No animal should be a tool for the military. Animals should not be treated as objects that can be altered and used for their natural gifts. They should be valued for what they are, and for being a part of ocean ecosystems.

It is clear that DARPA needs to stop this program. As the creators of the program, it has the ability to discontinue it and place its resources and abilities in more beneficial areas of technology. It needs to understand that the repercussions of a program like this will affect more than just the military; it will hurt the ocean, its creatures and the people who depend on it.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Heavy industry on the lower Mississippi helps to create dead zones. AJ Wallace on Unsplash.

Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world's dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.

Read More Show Less

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the ability to gather in peaceful assembly, a Canadian company has moved forward with construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A gas flare from the Shell Chemical LP petroleum refinery illuminates the sky on August 21, 2019 in Norco, Louisiana. Drew Angerer / Getty Images.

Methane levels in the atmosphere experienced a dramatic rise in 2019, preliminary data released Sunday shows.

Read More Show Less
A retired West Virginia miner suffering from black lung visits a doctor for tests. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

In some states like West Virginia, coal mines have been classified as essential services and are staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the close quarters miners work in and the known risks to respiratory health put miners in harm's way during the spread of the coronavirus.

Read More Show Less
Solar panel installations and a wind turbine at the Phu Lac wind farm in southern Vietnam's Binh Thuan province on April 23, 2019. MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP via Getty Images

Renewable energy made up almost three quarters of all new energy capacity added in 2019, data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows.

Read More Show Less