There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how an offshore wind farm would impact specific species off the coast, but researchers say it will change the area’s ecosystem.
Wildlife in the area may be impacted by the noise potentially being generated by the turbines, the vessel traffic that also creates noise and increases the chance of a collision, and the change in the ocean floor substrate from soft to hard, Sharon Kramer, project researcher at ecological consultants H.T. Harvey and Associates, said at an offshore wind energy webinar on Sept. 21.
The floating platforms would offer a place for birds to roost, haul out or perch; the undersea cables, though likely to be at least partially buried, would generate electromagnetic fields that would be detectable by many different animals that have sensory receptors for that; and lost fishing gear could get caught up with the project’s moorings and then become an entanglement concern, though that’s still an unknown, Kramer said.
Once the project is up and operational, the turbines would create a collision risk for birds and bats, Kramer said.
However, Scott Terrill, who is also a project researcher at H.T. Harvey, said most of the studies done on how projects like these impact birds focused on near-shore foundation turbines in the Atlantic Ocean. The species off the outer continental shelf of the Pacific Ocean are different from the ones that were the subject of those studies and analyses and could behave differently in response to the turbines, he said.
Robust data shows a number of pelagic bird species in the California current, such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, fly higher in high winds, engaging in dynamic soaring, Terrill said.
“Basically they tack into the wind and rise high above their starting point and tack and drop down and they achieve an overall height gain,” Terrill said.
There’s no baseline data for how these species will interact with the turbines, he said.
“They may avoid them, they may be indifferent or they may collide,” he said. ” … So that uncertainty regarding behavioral responses of these species necessitates monitoring.”
That, however, is also a challenge because of the remote location of offshore wind farms – avian fatality searches and visual monitoring are difficult, especially since boat-based and aerial surveys are costly, Terrill said.
Remote monitoring technology is being developed, however, and researchers are planning on deploying thermal trackers in the Humboldt Call Area this spring to track bird passage rates and flight speeds, Terrill said.
That will also make adaptive management a necessary practice as monitoring results start coming in, he said.
The next webinar will be Oct. 5 and focused on community perspectives on the regional impacts and opportunities of an offshore wind farm, followed by the final webinar Oct. 19 that will reflect on the results and focus on next steps.
For more information or to register for the webinars, go to schatzcenter.org/wind.
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