Protecting the North Atlantic Right Whale During Development
We need offshore wind power, and we need to do it right. Offshore wind will help eliminate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, promising cleaner air as well as thousands of well-paying clean energy jobs. But as we fight climate change, we can and must avoid, minimize and mitigate the threats to ocean life.
Given the precarious status of the North Atlantic right whale, responsible offshore wind development means we must advance this important new American industry with the necessary protections to allow these whales to feed and migrate undisturbed. The Biden administration took a significant step forward this month to get there.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have announced a major multi-agency initiative to increase protection for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale during offshore wind activities. With the agencies leading offshore wind management and right whale conservation spearheading the effort, this broad initiative will collect information from all corners of government and work with scientists and right whale experts. to define regional right whale monitoring priorities. Of utmost importance, the agencies will develop a “management strategy to protect and promote the recovery of North Atlantic right whales while responsibly developing offshore wind energy”.
Federal government action cannot come soon enough. Mitigation requirements to further guard against ship strikes and harmful noise levels must be part of the plan.
With less than 340 individuals remaining, the North Atlantic right whale is in dire straits. The species is rapidly declining due to ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements and faces a host of additional threats including underwater noise pollution and malnutritionwhile fighting for adapt to climate change. With the species simply unable to withstand further loss or disturbance, the right whale crisis is not a problem caused by the offshore wind industry, but it is a problem the industry must deal with. .
Developing strategy to protect endangered right whale population from day one of commercial-scale offshore wind development in U.S. waters highlights Biden administration commitment fight against the climate and stem the loss of biodiversity. Construction of turbines for the country’s first commercial-scale projects begins off New England in early 2023. This region represents a vitally important feeding ground and migration corridor for the species. We have a unique, but brief, period before steel enters the water to add other necessary protections to the North Atlantic Right Whale for these projects and to shape future ones.
This strategy announcement is a great step. However, BOEM cannot wait. Mitigation plans for any offshore wind project must:
- Keep vessel speeds for all boats in the water at 10 knots or less. Even a single collision with any boat operating anywhere on the water has major ramifications on the survivability of the North Atlantic right whale population. Slower speeds will also benefit other endangered and threatened whales and sea turtles. Until there is a real-time whale detection and response plan that has been scientifically proven to meet or exceed the protections that could be provided by traveling at 10 knots, we must slow down to accommodate the species.
- Reduce the noise generated by the installation of wind turbines (i.e. using quiet foundations or technologies that significantly reduce pile driving noise) to avoid harmful noise levels from the outset. We need to increase visual and acoustic monitoring to ensure whales are not in close proximity before activities begin with potentially dangerous noise levels. We must also protect the species in the longer term, by advancing engineering solutions that reduce the noise levels generated by the operation of turbines.
The NRDC is fighting to save the right whale from a host of threats – and to establish a responsible offshore wind. We believe that both of these goals can be achieved and that for offshore wind to be successful in the long term, it must be coupled with the necessary protections for ocean habitat and wildlife. The administration’s strategy for the North Atlantic right whale can help ensure the necessary mitigation and monitoring measures are in place to protect our valuable and vulnerable marine wildlife and habitat while quickly providing energy clean essential to feed our nation.