The Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and partners have announced the results of a three-year, multi-state project to help understand the Mid-Atlantic U.S. marine environment from Delaware to Virginia in order to inform sustainable offshore wind development off the region's coast.
BRI says the study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other organizations, fills significant ecological data gaps on bird, marine mammal and sea turtle distributions and movements along the eastern seaboard.
According to a DOE blog, "The results provide a new tool to help regulators, resource managers, researchers, and developers minimize issues during offshore wind siting and permitting processes, as well as informing natural resource management and conservation efforts."
Kate Williams, director of BRI's Wildlife and Renewable Energy Program and lead researcher on the project, comments, "This project is a model for future studies of its kind. This type of large-scale baseline study, and the focus on methodological development to improve future environmental studies, doesn't happen without sustained support from federal and state agencies."
A spokesperson from US Wind Inc., which won the lease for a wind energy area offshore of Maryland in 2014, says the company encourages the continence of such studies.
"This vital foundational step will help offshore wind developers better understand how to minimize the impacts while at the same time embracing the responsible development of offshore renewable energy sources in an effort to replace land-based carbon sources," says the spokesperson.
Primary components of the study included surveys, bird tracking, and the development of statistical models. Key findings included the following:
– Digital aerial surveys may be particularly useful for covering offshore areas at broad scales, where general distributions of taxonomic groups are a priority; boat surveys can provide more detailed data on species identities and behaviors, but are more limited in geographic scope due to their slower survey pace. BRI says the two survey methods are largely complementary.
– The study area was important for wintering and breeding taxa, and its location also made it a key migratory corridor. There was considerable variation in species composition and spatial patterns by season, largely driven by dynamic environmental conditions.
– Habitat gradients in nearshore waters were important influences on productivity and patterns of species distributions and abundance. Though some species displayed a more offshore distribution, there was generally higher overall abundance and diversity of wildlife within about 30-40 km of shore.
– Areas offshore of the mouths of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, as well as to the south of Delaware Bay along the coast, were consistent hotspots of abundance and species diversity, regardless of survey methodology or analytical approach.
More information can be found here.