Empire Wind and WCS extended whale watch agreement

4C Offshore | Tom Russell
By: 08/09/2022 Equinor

Empire Wind and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced the extension to 2028 of their agreement to monitor large whales in the lease area of
Empire Wind, an offshore wind project located in the New York Bight off the southern coast of Long Island.    

Empire Wind spans 80,000 acres, with water depths of between 65 and 131 feet (19.8m - 39.9m). The lease was acquired in 2017 and is being developed in two phases (Empire Wind 1 and 2) with a total installed capacity of more than 2 GW (816 MW + 1,260 MW). It is jointly owned by Equinor and bp.


The new agreement Empire Wind and WCS aims to ensure that important data to protect wildlife in the New York Bight will be collected during the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction phases of the wind project.

Two deployed moored acoustic monitoring buoys located in the New York Bight within Empire Wind lease area have already compiled more than 2,000 days of monitoring data and have detected more than 18,000 whale sounds in near real-time, including more than 2,600 detections this year alone. The acoustic monitoring agreement is between Empire Wind, a joint venture between Equinor and bp, and the WCS with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), which invented and operates the buoys.

“As a new industry, it is crucial that we establish best-in -class practices throughout the development phase of our projects from the start. The technology that will be deployed over this ten-year agreement provides Equinor the ability to assess our activities in real-time and ensure that we are putting marine life first in our operations,”
said Siri Espedal Kindem, President Equinor Wind US.  

“New York State is proud to lead offshore wind development in the U.S. through an industry that is backed by science and environmental research and data. We applaud Equinor and the Wildlife Conservation Society for expanding their partnership and ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and understanding marine life – setting a strong example for how strategic collaboration can mitigate potential risks and support responsible project development,”
said Doreen M. Harris, President and CEO, NYSERDA.

The two buoys use WHOI-developed near real-time passive acoustic monitoring (NRT PAM) technology that detects the distinct sounds of different whale species (there is also an archival recorded aspect as well). Data collected is expected to result in considerable new knowledge on whale occurrence and behavior in and around the Empire Wind lease area. The sounds that are detected and recorded by the buoys to date came from four large whale species: fin, humpback, sei, and North Atlantic right whales. The most commonly detected whale sound was a low frequency downsweep, called a 20Hz song note, that is produced by fin whales. 
 
“The data from this acoustic monitoring and our analyses clearly demonstrate that several large whale species are seasonally present, and some for extended periods of time in the New York Bight. This ongoing collaboration provides invaluable data on how these whales are using the New York Bight. In turn, this data can be used to inform best practices to minimize impacts on wildlife from the development of offshore wind energy,”
said Dr. Howard C. Rosenbaum, the Project Principal Investigator and Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program.

“The whale vocalizations detected by the buoys over the past six years highlights the importance of developing offshore wind responsibly and seeking ways to minimize impacts on marine mammals and other wildlife. Combined with individual sighting data from boats and aircraft, the vocalizations provide important baseline information on the frequency and number of animals present in and around the project area. We are delighted to continue our collaboration on this important topic with the experts at WCS,”
said Scott Lundin, Head of US Permitting and Environmental Affairs, from Equinor.
 
Mark Baumgartner, Project Principal Investigator and WHOI Marine Ecologist, said, “These buoys are part of a network of identical buoys deployed all along the U.S. east coast designed to monitor for whales and alert stakeholders in near real time.  This network is especially helpful for reducing risks to the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species that lives on the east coasts of the U.S. and Canada.”  
 
The two acoustic buoys supported by the project are deployed in an effort to generate important data prior to construction of the Empire Wind project. The effort will continue to provide near real-time monitoring for more than a decade, both during and after construction, for the four species of large whales.  This information is expected to help Empire Wind and future offshore wind developments mitigate risks to these species from project activity, while also offering insight into any potential impact that wind farm construction and operation might have on these species. WCS began this monitoring in 2016 and Equinor began supporting it in 2019.
 

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