National Fisherman

June 27, 2022

Three North Atlantic right whales feed on the water surface of Cape Cod Bay. Brigid McKenna / Center for Coastal Studies photo, under NOAA Research Permit # 19315-01.

Offshore wind developers Ørsted and Eversource say they have reached an agreement with environmental groups to improve the protection of endangered North Atlantic sand whales during the construction and operation of the South Fork Wind project.

The companies say they will adopt monitoring measures to ensure that sand whales are not in the vicinity during construction activity, and use mitigating steps to reduce underwater noise during piling.

They will also evaluate other new surveillance technologies, including thermal cameras, acoustic sensors and data integration software. Developers say the results from South Fork will be used in future projects.

A 10-knot vessel speed limit will be in place for all boats working on the project, “unless an effective adaptive speed management plan is in place,” according to the developers.

Such 10-knot limits are commonly requested by the National Marine Fisheries Service when its surveillance detects right-whale movements off the east coast, triggering notifications of special management areas to reduce the risk of ship attacks. Accidental encounters in the sailing routes are a major cause of death for sand whales, now estimated to number only about 340 animals.

NMFS whale watching has shown significant overlap between right whale movements and offshore wind development areas off southern New England.

The 130-megawatt South Fork project, 35 miles east of Montauk, NY, has already been modified for environmental reasons under a “habitat alternative” plan approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in late 2021. Originally planned as an array of 15 turbines, the layout was reduced to 12 machines, a result of recommendations from the NMFS and the fishing industry to sell critical fish habitats.

The new whale agreement was signed with the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Conservation Law Foundation, organizations that have been advocating for renewable energy for years – and have taken some political heat over offshore wind critics’ claims that wind turbines will pose new threats against whales.

To support wind power, environmental groups say moving away from fossil fuels must be part of the response to climate change, which is already making the Northeast Sea part of the fastest warming in the world and changing the whales’ food supply and habitats.

“To address the climate crisis, we need the offshore wind industry to grow and thrive,” Alison Chase, a senior policy analyst at NRDC, said in a joint statement with developers Monday. “Measures such as those of South Fork Wind to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts on the North Atlantic right whale are the key to ensuring offshore wind development is done in a smart way that protects our valuable and vulnerable wildlife. We do not have to choose between clean energy development and wildlife protection” , and this agreement shows how we can do both. ”

“This agreement enhances our existing ability to protect marine life based on 30 years of experience in building and operating offshore wind farms, while testing new technologies that will further strengthen our ability to both combat the threat of climate change and build projects. that exist side by side with our ecosystem, ”said Rob Mastria, project development director for South Fork Wind for Ørsted,

“Offshore wind is a crucial element of our nation’s strategy to address the climate crisis, but it must be done in a way that protects vital marine wildlife and habitats,” said Dr. Priscilla Brooks, Director of Ocean Conservation at CLF. “The vessel speed limits and adaptive control measures agreed upon by South Fork Wind will go a long way toward protecting these whales from being injured or killed by project vessels.”

Ørsted says it also funds an innovative app called WhaleAlert that tracks whales and distributes information to help vessels avoid collisions. The company makes “other investments in tracking software and collaborates with a number of national and international academic institutions to promote biodiversity efforts.”

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