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Can offshore wind coexist with endangered whales?

NJ Spotlight|John Hurdle|February 10, 2022
New JerseyOffshore WindWhales
But Danielle Brown, a whale expert at Rutgers University, argued that not enough is known about how wind farms will affect marine life, and so the federal initiative is welcome. ...Protecting the right whale is so important because its global population is down to about 330, and some of those migrate through the New York Bight between New York and New Jersey from November to April, Brown said. Survival of the species is also threatened by its slow reproduction rate, which dropped to only 13 calves in the latest season, she said. International conservation groups define a critically endangered species as one that has an extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

As offshore wind developers push ahead with plans to build some 200 turbines off the Jersey Shore, the Biden administration is stepping up its efforts to determine how the budding industry can coexist with a critically endangered species of whale.
 
The  Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says it will work with other federal agencies to produce a plan for the recovery of the North Atlantic Right Whale while “responsibly” developing offshore wind energy — a key component of the administration’s clean-energy strategy.
 
The bureau, which leases offshore wind areas to developers, said it’s working to identify the movement and distribution of the right whale and other marine mammals, and expects to issue a plan to minimize impacts on them from …
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As offshore wind developers push ahead with plans to build some 200 turbines off the Jersey Shore, the Biden administration is stepping up its efforts to determine how the budding industry can coexist with a critically endangered species of whale.
 
The  Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says it will work with other federal agencies to produce a plan for the recovery of the North Atlantic Right Whale while “responsibly” developing offshore wind energy — a key component of the administration’s clean-energy strategy.
 
The bureau, which leases offshore wind areas to developers, said it’s working to identify the movement and distribution of the right whale and other marine mammals, and expects to issue a plan to minimize impacts on them from the offshore wind industry later this year.
 
It plans to use “passive acoustic monitoring” to detect the whale and other mammals near offshore wind farms and will install “site-specific mitigation measures” to reduce the turbines’ impact, both during construction and after they are installed.
 
“BOEM is deeply committed to ensuring responsible offshore wind energy development and to protecting marine species, like the North Atlantic Right Whale. Continued collaboration with our federal and non-federal partners is essential to our success in both endeavors,” the agency’s director, Amanda Lefton, said in a statement Monday.
 
Critics of offshore wind development say the planned forest of turbines around 15 miles offshore will kill birds and impede migrating fish and marine mammals, as well as spoil the ocean view from coastal resorts such as Ocean City.
 
Not enough is known
 
But Danielle Brown, a whale expert at Rutgers University, argued that not enough is known about how wind farms will affect marine life, and so the federal initiative is welcome.
 
“We really don’t know what the impacts will be of offshore wind construction on large whales,” she said. “So any additional data that can be collected will help us answer those questions.”
 
Protecting the right whale is so important because its global population is down to about 330, and some of those migrate through the New York Bight between New York and New Jersey from November to April, Brown said. Survival of the species is also threatened by its slow reproduction rate, which dropped to only 13 calves in the latest season, she said. International conservation groups define a critically endangered species as one that has an extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
 
Even with measures to protect the whales from the offshore wind industry, “it may take a very long time for their numbers to increase,” said Brown, who is also the lead researcher for Gotham Whale, a nonprofit that documents marine whales in New York and New Jersey.
 
Although she’s a regular participant in boat trips run by Jersey Shore Whale Watch out of Belmar, Brown said she has only ever seen one North Atlantic Right Whale — during a trip in November 2020.
 
Effects during construction phase
 
Bill McKim, owner of Jersey Shore Whale Watch, predicted that his business will suffer with the noise and boat movements during wind-farm construction, but he hopes the completed turbines will nurture fish that will in turn attract whales and the people who want to watch them.
 
“If they are going to be blasting the ocean floor, I’m sure it’s not going to be good for my business,” said McKim, who takes about 10,000 people on whale watches a year. “In the long term, the fish go around those artificial reefs, and eventually it would be OK.”
 
Although an increase in prey fish around wind turbines may attract the humpback whales that are much more commonly seen in New Jersey waters, the new fish are not expected to draw right whales because the latter feed on a type of plankton.
 
Brown predicted that wind-farm construction will create ocean noise and vessel traffic in areas where whales migrate. When the wind farms are operational, starting in late 2024, they are expected to bring a lot more recreational boat traffic to the area as anglers seek fish that are attracted to the reef-like conditions created by the turbine legs. The extra boats will create another potential challenge for marine life, she said.
 
“Offshore wind construction is approaching very quickly but it does seem as if they are asking the right questions, and they are putting as much effort and funding as they can into answering those questions,” Brown said. If more is known about the timing of the animal’s migration, that may restrict when wind farms are built, she added.
 
Thermal cameras, sound detection
 
New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm, Ørsted’s Ocean Wind 1 about 15 miles off Atlantic City, is scheduled to start delivering power to the grid in late 2024. It is expected to generate 1,100 megawatts, or enough to power about 500,000 homes. It will be followed by the Atlantic Shores project between 10 and 20 miles off the coast between Atlantic City and Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island. That project is due to start operating in 2027 and is scheduled to generate 1,510 megawatts, or enough to power about 700,000 homes.
 
Denmark’s Ørsted, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power, said it seeks to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale in its offshore wind projects. It has committed $6 million so far to research on the mammal, and is working with Rutgers and other institutions to use data from sound-detection buoys and an offshore glider to better understand the whale’s habitat and behavior in an offshore wind area.
 
The company also uses thermal cameras and employs experts on protected species to monitor the whales. “Biodiversity and the protection of the North Atlantic Right Whale are key focus areas for Orsted,” it said in a statement.
 
Atlantic Shores, a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies U.S. and EDF Renewables North America, said it is conducting “dozens of studies” with partners including Rutgers and the New Jersey Audubon Society to anticipate its impact on the environment.

Source:https://www.njspotlightnews.o…

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