Fisheries Researchers Create Comprehensive Habitat Database for Offshore Wind-Energy Areas

With large areas off the Northeast coast designated for offshore wind energy development, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers are helping people better understand how construction and operation of offshore wind facilities can affect ocean bottom habitats and the fishery species they support.

In 2013, researchers Vince Guida, Jennifer Sampson, and Rich Langton at NOAA Fisheries’ James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sandy Hook, N.J., conceived a project to study bottom habitat in these wind-energy areas. They approached the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and submitted a proposal for funding. The project was approved.

BOEM has issued leases in eight wind-energy areas (WEAs) along the outer continental shelf from Massachusetts to North Carolina for offshore renewable-energy development. The designated WEAs encompass some 4,000 square nautical miles, or 3.4 million acres, of seafloor. About 40 percent of that area has actually been leased to date, and more will likely be leased soon, according to NOAA.

“Large areas of fisheries habitat in the ocean would be involved and potentially impacted by these WEAs and the resulting construction and operation of wind facilities,” said Guida, the project’s lead and chief of the Howard Lab’s Habitat Ecology Branch. “We felt BOEM should know what is there now, what environmental issues and potential impacts there might be, before these areas are developed.”

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