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Ordnance Reef Survey Questions and Answers

What is this Ordnance Reef and survey?

In 2002, the U.S. Army completed a survey of a munitions area near the Waianae sewage outfall locally referred to as “Ordnance Reef.”  An area containing over 2,000 military munitions was mapped.  Depths at this location range from 15 to 240 feet, with the majority of munitions observed at depths below 60 feet.  All of the munitions, which appear to be discarded, are unfuzed and unfired.  There is no indication or expectation that any of these munitions are chemical.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has asked NOAA to conduct a follow-on scientific assessment of the area.  NOAA, with assistance from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the University of Hawaii (UH), will (1) determine the boundaries of the disposal area; (2) compare the ecology of the survey area with that of a control area; (3) determine the quantity, type, and location of munitions; (4) sample sediments, the water column, and fish tissue; and (5) collect data to support an environmental risk assessment by DoD. 

What is NOAA and what is the agency’s role in the survey?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency that conducts scientific research and gathers data about the oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun.  NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our nation’s economic, social and environmental needs.  NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  NOAA is responsible for the overall coordination and implementation of the Ordnance Reef survey.  NOAA offices involved in the survey include: NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program, NOAA Office of Coast Survey, NOAA Office of Response and Restoration, NOAA Special Projects Office, and NOAA Fisheries Service (Pacific Region). Teledyne Benthos will provide technical support.

What is DLNR’s role in the survey?

DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources will provide invaluable local knowledge of marine life and habitats and assist the project team with the identification and selection of fish species to be collected within the survey area for subsequent analysis.

What is UH’s role in the survey?

UH will be responsible for sediment collection and analysis and water sampling within the survey area. Sediment samples will be collected by NOAA divers and a remotely operated vehicle.

How will the survey be conducted?

The project team will use the latest remote sensing and environmental sampling techniques and technologies to conduct the assessment, including high resolution seafloor scanners and a remotely operated vehicle.  Fish, sediment, and water samples will be sent to two independent laboratories and the University of Hawaii for testing.

When will the survey results be available?

NOAA, DAR, and UH will issue a report in fall 2006 that the DoD will use as the basis for an assessment of the potential safety and environmental risks associated with the presence of munitions, and to determine response actions that may be required.  The report will be made available to the public.

Will the report make recommendations about what to do with the munitions?

No, this is not NOAA's area of expertise.  The report will, however, help DoD identify the type and quantity of munitions present and allow it to assess the potential safety and environmental risks associated with the presence of munitions, and to work with regulatory agencies and affected stakeholders to determine response actions that may be required.

Has NOAA done surveys like this before?

NOAA and its root agency, the U.S. Coast Survey, have nearly 200 years of experience conducting surveys of U.S. waters.  NOAA personnel and assets are on the water every day, exploring ocean habitats, studying marine resources, and charting our oceans and coasts.  NOAA helped locate the wreckage of TWA 800 and identified submerged obstructions to navigation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. 

Are there other munitions disposal sites in Hawaii and elsewhere in U.S. Waters?

NOAA nautical charts indicate the location of potential underwater hazards.  Nautical charts include sites reported to have been used by DoD for disposal of military munitions.  NOAA nautical charts are available free of charge on NOAA’s Web site,

Will NOAA update its charts with whatever is learned about the Ordnance Reef site?

NOAA will, as necessary, update its nautical charts of the area to provide mariners with the best information available about this munitions disposal site. 

Are the fish from the Ordnance Reef area safe to eat?

The Waianae waters have always provided wholesome fish for consumption for residents and the public.  There have been no reports of tainted seafood resources. However, as a precaution, and as related to the intent of this project, fish and other marine life will be sampled and tested.  Any findings of concern will be quickly shared with the State Department of Health.

Is it safe to swim or boat in the area?

Although any munition encountered should not be moved or disturbed, DoD has indicated that if you follow the 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report)--recognize the danger (do not touch it), retreat (note or mark the general area and carefully move away), and report (call 911)--the munitions associated with Ordnance Reef should not present an immediate threat to swimmers and boaters. To learn more, visit the U.S. Army's Unexploded Ordnance Safety Education Program's Web site,

While NOAA will have a vessel, equipment, and divers in the water, there will be no restrictions on ocean use.  Boaters are asked only to observe the usual courtesies afforded to mariners.

What happens if you find munitions that may pose an immediate threat?

DoD explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel will provide NOAA advice during its survey.  These personnel will ensure the explosives safety of survey operations and personnel, and identify munitions.  NOAA does not intend to remove or disturb munitions during this survey.  One of the reasons EOD is present is to help NOAA avoid the explosive hazards present.

Navy EOD conducted a survey of this area in early 2000.  As such, DoD has a general idea of munitions present, their condition, and the potential hazards posed.  However, should a munition be encountered that EOD believes poses an immediate threat to public health and safety, they will advise NOAA's crew, inform local law enforcement, and arrange for the appropriate DoD support to eliminate the hazard.

Will NOAA be involved in future underwater ordnance disposal site surveys?

NOAA is constantly working in partnership with oceanographic research institutions, universities and federal, state, and local agencies to expand our knowledge of the dynamic and ever-changing ocean environment.  NOAA will continue to support DoD’s efforts to study munitions disposal sites as requested.

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