The Indian River Lagoon is home to more than 4,000 plant and animal species, 37 of them listed under the Endangered Species Act. It supports a $130 million sport-fishing industry. Hutchinson Island is the most active sea turtle hatchery in North America.
Florida Power & Light is asking St. Lucie County to support the placement of wind turbines on Hutchinson Island.
Indian Riverkeeper supports alternative power, but is opposed to proceeding toward placement of 400-foot-high wind turbines on Hutchinson Island without extensive analysis of the consequences.
Indian Riverkeeper opposes the placement of the wind turbines on conservation lands. It could weaken protection that has stopped other development projects attempted on conservation lands.
Dr. Grant Gilmore, formerly of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and the recognized expert on fish in the Indian River Lagoon, has studied proposed sites for wind turbines and reports that the wetland areas, right up to the back of the island’s dune, are essential fish habitat. Baby tarpon, snook and other important species need this shallow area in which to feed.
We ask that the Army Corps of Engineers do a determination of wetland impacts. Wetland impacts should necessitate a full environmental impact statement. Speckled sea trout and many other species spawn in the summer in the Indian River Lagoon. Dr. Gilmore has demonstrated that when a train passes along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, all of the trout spawning songs stop until the train has passed.
Constant noise and vibration from the turbines could have an enormous impact on the entire ecosystem. Spotted sea trout are vital to our sport fishing industry, both as a fish to catch and as tiny sea trout that feed many other species in the food web.
Before the project is approved, there must be a determination as to whether sustained noise and/or vibration from the wind turbines would halt spawning along the most concentrated area of trout spawning in the Indian River Lagoon.
Since the site is on the most active sea turtle nesting area in the western hemisphere, we will ask the applicant to apply for an incidental take permit under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. A resulting habitat conservation plan would ensure that the sound and electromagnetic impacts to sea turtles won’t affect the hatchery.
Harbor Branch has done studies about magnetic fields and their effect on baby sea turtle travel direction. Baby sea turtles change their direction of travel in the presence of a weak magnetic field. Big turbine generators on the beaches could create magnetic fields that could affect sea turtle survival. Lights on the turbine towers may also affect which way the baby sea turtles go.
Nesting females are easily frightened and may flee from the noise and motion of wind turbines. Imagine standing over a female sea turtle crawling up the beach, spinning large streamers around in the air while you hum very loudly (maybe scream). It doesn’t tale a million-dollar federal grant to understand that you will scare that sea turtle away. Consider a 400-foot tower looming above these same sea turtles doing much the same thing.
Indian Riverkeeper has further concerns about migrating birds, impacts of vibration on right whales, and impacts to near shore reefs.
The urgency in fighting climate change must not sacrifice the habitat we seek to save. Indian Riverkeeper requests that there be no use of conservation lands for any use other than those designated in the purchase arrangement. Indian Riverkeeper requests that no approval or endorsement of the project, especially on wetlands, is granted without the completion of a full environmental impact statement.
By Kevin Stinnette
Stinnette is Indian Riverkeeper for the Indian River Lagoon.
21 December 2007
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