The last thing Kauai needs is more foolish fear-mongering.
But that's what The Garden Island gave us yesterday when it reported that radar from the Pacific Missile Range Facility is killing Kauai's reefs.
Proving once again that it will repeat every idiotic thing that Terry Lilley utters, TGI devoted extensive front page coverage to the crackpot theory that an electrical current generated by the Navy's radar towers is corroding coral and electrocuting sea life.
Reporter Jessica Else regurgitated, without question, this gem from Lilley:
“If we could see the radiation like we can see light, the entire island would be lit up 24/7. That’s now much we’re exposed to every day.”
Except we aren't. It takes a lot of expensive electricity to run the radar towers, so the Navy turns them on only when there's an exercise. They aren't on round-the-clock. Furthermore, most of the towers are more than 40 years old, so they're frequently down for repairs.
Lilley's sidekick, a self-described chemical engineer from Atlanta named Stewart Simonson, marveled at finding “hundreds of tons of calcium carbonate” dissolved in the sea around reefs, before noting:
In the industry, if someone asked me to do that, I’d need tanker trucks of hydrochloric acid in concentrated form to get that much to dissolve.
Yo, Stu. Ever heard of the well-documented process known as ocean acidification? It compromises coral's ability to recolonize and grow sturdy structures, making it more vulnerable to diseases and damage caused by other threats, such as warming water temperature and chemical and nutrient pollution.
In fact, Slate recently had an article on how “Ocean waters are turning corrosive, and it’s happening so quickly scientists say there may not be any oysters left to eat in coming decades.”
And as a friend noted, folks use hydrochloridic acid by the five-gallon-bucket full to keep many of the outdated wastewater systems working in Haena. Now that can't be good for the reefs.
Undeterred by reality, Simonson extrapolates his mad theorizing to sea creatues, bolstering Lilley's claim that Navy radar is blinding turtles and blowing off their fins, and otherwise electrocuting sharks, whales and other marine life:
The turtle “is poking his head up and floating around a bit near the surface and getting juiced a bit near the surface,” Simonson said.
Lilley said it’s much more difficult to show a connection between electromagnetic radiation and human disease than it is to document the effect on marine life because of the secrecy of medical records.
Medical records be damned, I'm pretty sure we'd hear about it if a snorkeler went blind or a surfer's ears were shredded.
As any good scientist knows, you check out your theories before presenting them authoritatively to a gullible, scientifically illiterate reporter. The scenario presented by Lilley and Simonson lacks credible methodology, much less adherence to the basic scientific principles of data collection, repeatability or verification. What's more, the suggested effects would manifest anywhere there is land/water interface with radars, which is clearly not the case.
Is it any wonder that PMRF commander Capt. Bruce Hay didn't respond to TGI's inquiries about those claims? Where would you even start?
And as any good reporter knows, you check things out before you go to press. Because once it's out there, people believe it, even if it's utter nonsense. TGI needs to stop giving Lilley a platform and develop a broader network of credible sources who aren't publicity hounds.
As a journalist friend observed after reading the story:
I've come to the conclusion that TGI can't really help the community but it sure can damage it. Unbelievable.