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Story by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Taurean Alexander
USS ESSEX, Coral Sea (JULY 11, 2009) – Standing an official Navy watch is not to be taken lightly because of the many potential threats to the ship, the mission and the very lives of Sailors themselves.

During exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09), watchstanders aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) are also looking out for someone else’s well-being—the diverse marine life found off the coast of Australia.

“Basically, if we were on watch and happen to see a marine mammal, we would report it to the bridge,” said Boatswain’s Mate Seaman (SW) Kevin Harris. “The bridge would then call the proper authorities and give the longitude and latitude.”

Essex has coordinated with the Australian Defense Force (ADF) to ensure that planned activities for TS09 are conducted in a manner that does not harm endangered species and other environmental resources.

“Marine life is something we are very conscious of and we are committed to doing everything within our capabilities to protect it,” said Capt. Brent Canady, Essex’ commanding officer. “I’m very confident that, if we follow the proper procedures, we will successfully complete Talisman Saber without harming any marine life.” All U.S. Navy ships are directed to conduct continuous 360-degree searches for marine mammals.

The first line of defense against these hazards is the ship’s lookout watches. Chief Boatswain’s Mate (SW/AW) Christopher White said the Sailors in Essex’ Deck Department must be qualified to stand any of the lookout watches, which involves completing an extensive personal qualifications standard (PQS).

“Our guys have a marine mammal chart that displays pictures of the many mammals they may encounter while standing watch,” said White. “It’s imperative for our guys to utilize the chart because we need to be doing everything in our power to prevent an accident.”

Navy-wide lookout training emphasizes marine conservation and includes a marine species awareness video that provides lookouts information on visual cues indicating the presence of marine mammals and their behaviors. It emphasizes larger marine mammals pose a risk of collision and that all sightings must be reported.

“Before we’re even able to stand a watch by ourselves, we complete a section of Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS) dedicated to marine mammals,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Nakinte Noel. “Between the PQS and the mammal charts, I’d say everyone is on the same page as far as knowing what we’re looking for.”

The training also provides lookouts the ability to identify different species of marine mammals most commonly encountered around ships. Reports of marine mammal activity are passed on to all units in company so these mammals can be avoided by other ships involved in the exercise.

While participating in TS09 and transiting the Great Barrier Reef, Essex will look out for more than 30 species of dolphins, whales and dugongs, as well as six species of sea turtles.

“The water and the reef are amazing. It gives us something to look at while we’re out there,” said Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Jeffrey Giraldo.

TS09 is a biennial, combined training activity designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting combined operations, which will help improve combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and U.S. forces.

Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. ARG and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
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