The Nature Conservancy has created a new mapping tool to demonstrate the possible impact of hundreds of the offshore wind turbines on whales as well as other marine life along the East Coast. The tool, which is the first of its type for the coast between North Carolina and Maine, was developed to encourage the development of offshore wind power while simultaneously protecting “fish and whale congregation areas.”
During an online press conference, officials from the conservancy, which has more than 1 million members and 400 staff scientists, recognized that there are still “gaps” in knowing how wind turbines may affect fish behavior. Another uncertainty, as per Chris McGuire, who serves as the director in charge of the group’s marine project in Massachusetts, where the first large-scale U.S. offshore site is being built, is how future changes in the ocean, such as warming water, may affect fish behavior.
In an interview, he explained, “Separately, there is a proposal for financing today that is attempting and get at the climate forecasting side of this.” However, he added that closing the deficit would take several years. The matter is being investigated by scientists from the Conservancy and experts from Rutgers University. According to McGuire, States and the federal government can take up to ten years to approve offshore regions for wind leasing. The mapping device would provide computerized information on where different fish species concentrate at different times of the year.
President Biden has set a goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by the year 2030. Approximately 2,000 turbines would be installed along the East Coast. Tensions are currently high in Massachusetts, where the commercial fishing organizations have accused Vineyard Wind of endangering their livelihood. Although the conservancy favors offshore renewable energy, it expects that the maps will be useful to both sides in resolving disputes between wind developers and fishermen.
Some fish have been drawn to the boulder formations that assist anchor turbines to the seabed. Others, according to McGuire, appear to shift to alternate habitats when turbines are placed near them. “We don’t know much about how to make turbines better fish habitats,” McGuire added, noting that a project to look at the issue has just begun in the Netherlands.
Some commercial fishing firms have private maps of their greatest fishing spots. According to McGuire, since these maps are so small, they may not provide much insight into efforts to collect public data for a whole region. Furthermore, depending on the region, different species’ habits can alter from year to year or remain the same for upwards of 40 years. According to Marta Ribera, who is a scientist with the Nature Conservancy, “more is known about specific sections of the moon than regarding which fish species prefer one spot over another.”