As part of the state’s initiative to pursue responsible offshore wind development, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has completed its first year of aerial wildlife data collection over an offshore wind area.
Over three years, NYSERDA is acquiring regional-scale baseline information on seasonal wildlife distribution, abundance and movement over a 16,000-square-mile area. The potential effects of individual offshore wind projects, as well as any possible cumulative effects of multiple projects, will be better understood with this data, says NYSERDA. The authority and other state agencies are in the middle of developing the New York Offshore Wind Master Plan, due by the end of the year.
“This survey underscores the importance of our commitment to the preservation of the wildlife in our coastal areas and our commitment to environmental stewardship as we develop offshore wind,” comments Alicia Barton, president and CEO of NYSERDA. “The state is undertaking a series of studies to ensure that offshore wind is a win for New York’s environment from both a carbon-reduction standpoint and a resource-preservation standpoint.”
With each pixel corresponding to 1.5 centimeters on the ocean surface, the gathered images provide details to allow taxonomists to identify the species for an extremely high percentage of the birds and marine animals, according to NYSERDA. Bird species identified include shearwaters, double-crested cormorant, petrels, gulls and terns. Remarkable as these images are, however, it is important to note that the vast majority of the images (more than 90%) show no birds or marine animals at or near the water surface, the authority points out.
As the survey progresses, distribution of organisms will be evaluated for patterns to aid in identifying areas of lower biological activity where offshore wind development may be feasible.
NYSERDA has developed a website that allows the public to see some of the different animals that have been recorded. The aerial surveys are being conducted in coordination with other research, including visual surveys from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and federal entities.
NYSERDA’s study is being carried out by Normandeau Associates Inc. and APEM Ltd. It is one of more than 20 studies NYSERDA is undertaking to provide current information about potential environmental and social sensitivities, economic and practical considerations, and regulatory requirements associated with offshore wind energy development. These studies cover topics such as fish and fisheries, marine wildlife, sediments, port infrastructure and permitting.
APEM has begun surveying for the project using a newly developed camera system, Shearwater III, which was developed to push image resolutions to as low as a 0.5-centimeter resolution. APEM carries out the surveys, and the images are then analyzed by experts at Normandeau and APEM to identify birds and other marine species.