THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council applauded Vineyard Wind and four other companies for agreeing to a common layout
for their New England offshore wind farms, but he said the
configuration the firms are proposing is exactly what his agency pressed
Vineyard Wind to adopt nearly two years ago.
Grover Fugate said the decision by the wind farm developers to go with a standard east-west orientation with each turbine one nautical mile apart settles a lot of concerns about how fishing, navigation, and search and rescue operations can coexist with the developing offshore wind industry. “I think it takes a lot of the issues off the table,” he said.
Getting issues off the table was a big priority for all the
companies, as the industry is temporarily stalled while the Coast Guard
and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are trying to decide
how Vineyard Wind’s first-in-the-nation proposal will mesh with other
projects coming along in the development pipeline. While some fishing
interests are still grumbling about this week’s turbine layout proposal,
Fugate’s personal endorsement is a strong signal the initiative is
likely to pass muster with both fishermen and federal regulators.
Still, Fugate can’t help but chuckle how Vineyard Wind came around to
the council’s point of view. “The alignment that they’re doing is what
we were trying to get Vineyard Wind to do two years ago,” Fugate said.
At the time, Vineyard Wind had proposed 84 turbines arranged on a
northwest-southeast orientation, with the turbines nearly nine-tenths of
a nautical mile apart. The council, representing fishing interests,
pressed for an east-west orientation with one nautical mile between the
turbines. Vineyard Wind resisted, insisting it was on a tight schedule
to take advantage of a federal tax credit and it had already spent $25
million taking core samples from the ocean floor at each of its proposed
“They said it would have killed the project if we delayed it,” he said.
In February, the council and its Fishermen’s Advisory Board grumbled about Vineyard Wind’s proposed layout but nevertheless gave their blessing
after the company agreed to make $4.2 million in payments to commercial
fishermen over 30 years and create a $12.5 million trust to cover
additional costs. If the council and its advisory board had voted
against the Vineyard Wind project and ended up being overruled on
appeal, they could have ended up with nothing.
Now the council may get the wind farm layout it wanted plus the
settlement money it negotiated earlier. (“Our lawyers are looking at
it,” Fugate said.)
Fugate said the biggest advantage of the layout proposed by the five wind farm developers is its simplicity, allowing the east-west lanes to be used for fishing and the north-south lanes for navigation. He said the east-west lanes can alternate between fixed-gear fishing (lobster) and mobile-gear fishing (squid). Fugate said the layout would appear to satisfy most fishermen, but he acknowledged some still want additional two-mile navigation lanes cutting through the wind farm areas.
A big questionmark now is whether Vineyard Wind can build its wind farm even if it passes federal muster. Fugate said the company told the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council nearly two years ago that the project would go belly up if it was delayed. In mid-July, the company said the project would be at risk if it wasn’t approved by federal regulators in six weeks. In early August, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put the wind farm on hold indefinitely, but Vineyard Wind insisted the “project remains viable and continues to move ahead.” The joint announcement on wind farm layout earlier this week suggests Vineyard Wind continues to believe the project is viable, even though its original timetable has been blown up.
A spokesman for Vineyard Wind declined to comment on the record. In a letter to the Coast Guard released on Tuesday, the five companies — Vineyard Wind, Eversource Energy, Mayflower Wind, Orsted North America, and Equinor Wind — laid out why the standard configuration serves all interests best. “The New England leaseholders are proude to be working together to present a collaborative solution that we believe accommodates all ocean users in the region,” they said.
On my daily beach walk I came across this dead animal (about 1 week ago, on the Lion Head beach close to the entrance to Hog Creek, in Springs, East Hampton):
Based on the pictures I took, it’s now been identified as Kemp’s Ridley Turtle. This is a critically endangered species. In fact it is the most endangered sea turtle species!
Obviously we would all like to know why this rare animal showed up on our beach, and what might have caused its death.
Adult turtles which reach sexual maturity at the age of 7-15 years, measure about 27″ in length. This specimen measured about approx. 15″ and was therefore a juvenile.
Kemp’s Ridley can be found along the Atlantic coast as far north as New Jersey. Mature adults migrate back to their nesting beach in Mexico every year: female Kemp’s Ridley turtles come together all at once in what is known as an arribada, which means “arrival” in Spanish. Nearly 95 percent of Kemp’s Ridley nesting worldwide occurs in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Nesting is usually between May and July, and females will lay up to three clutches of 100 eggs that must incubate for 50-60 days.
Hatchlings spend up to 10 years in the open ocean as juveniles. Kemp’s Ridley turtles occupy “neritic” zones, which contain muddy or sandy bottoms where their preferred prey is plentiful. Even in the ocean, the Kemp’s Ridley turtles rarely swim in waters deeper than about 160 feet.
Kemp’s Ridley turtles face many threats to their survival including incidental capture in fishing gear, or bycatch, egg collection by predators and climate change.
What was the cause of death for our turtle? Kemp’s Ridley turtles do not tolerate cold water below 8 degrees Celsius. East Hampton waters are currently about 10 degrees Celsius. So it seems that the turtle was too far north for its comfort zone. Note that it’s left front flipper seems to be missing or seriously mangled. This suggests that the turtle may have been injured, perhaps by fishing trawlers. Incidental take by shrimp trawlers in the gulf of Mexico is a recognized hazard for this species.
Finally, there is the possibility that ocean acidification from climate change has altered the food chain for this species as noted by OCEANA. Kemp’s Ridley turtle feeds on mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, fish, algae, seaweed, and sea urchins. But juveniles (such as our specimen) feed on crabs and on bay scallops.
It’s interesting that bay scallops in the Peconic bay have recently suffered a die-off discussed elsewhere on this blog and possibly related to ocean acidification.
Bottom line: you don’t have to look far to witness a species in trouble!
I note that this species likes waters with high salinity (over 30 PSU), see above. The following map shows that our waters around Long Island have much lower average salinity (less than 25 PSU). Thus both the low temperature and the low salinity represent a hostile environment for Kemp’s Ridley Turtles.
WWW is a friend of fish and all the creatures living in our oceans!
Even as the oceans are acidifying and
warming at alarming rates, and species are migrating northwards, the opposition
to off-shore wind energy suggests wind farms will bring harm to fish, or to
whales, etc. Healthy oceans spell abundant fish and are good for the
fishing industry and some fishermen recognize this.
In our opening statement regarding the
South Fork Wind Farm, pinned to the top of this blog it states:
WILL THIS HURT OUR FISHERMEN?
After listening to commercial fishermen, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management made
sure that wind turbines and cable will avoid Cox’s Ledge, a valuable commercial
fishing area. In fact, existing wind turbines off Block Island attract marine
life to them, imitating an artificial reef.
For years, researchers have warned that the increasing acidity of the oceans is likely to create a whole host of problems for the marine environment. Check it out: the evidence is already here.
One of the biggest problems is that zooplankton is shifting poleward as a result of warming ocean temperatures. The findings, published in the journal Nature, show the widespread impact climate change is having on marine ecosystems. Scientists have warned that while some species will be able to follow their food source to new waters, many others will not. Even at 1 degree [Celsius] of warming, species have to adapt because their food source has disappeared. As an example, read about the migration of stingrays that have wiped out oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay and have moved to the Peconic Bay this year!
Here is something fun you can do. Go to https://poshtide.threadless.com/collections. Pick your favorite fish (or shell fish) design and order a holiday gift: tee shirt, slippers, back pack, pillow, beach towel, zip pouch, or even a shower curtain! If you are on Instagram check out @staceyposnett an incredibly gifted artist and designer and a big environmentalist. You can also order custom items which include the Win With Wind logo.
A massive and mysterious die-off of bay scallops over the
past summer wiped out as much of 95 percent of the valuable and iconic
shellfish in parts of the Peconic Bay system, raising concerns about the
effect that climate change may have on the future of the East End’s
most famous natural resource.
The scale of the losses, the
scientists who have documented the destruction said, is so great in some
areas as to be reminiscent of the devastation wreaked by some of the
infamous “brown tide” algae blooms of the late 1980s and early 1990s,
which decimated the wild stock and all but ended a centuries-old
commercial fishing industry that relied solely on harvests from the East
The cause of this year’s devastation is not
immediately clear, but scientists say that the arch-enemy of bay
scallops — algae blooms like brown tide and the more recent “rust tide” —
do not appear to be at fault, and other likely culprits also do not
seem to be to blame.
What’s left to blame, according to one of
researchers who has tracked the die-off, is a confluence of
environmental conditions and the stresses of the scallops’ own
biological cycles that may have killed the shellfish, even as they sowed
the seeds of next year’s stock.
There is some good news amid
the devastation, primarily because half the reason that the scale of the
die-off is remarkable is that there were so many live scallops to start
with — and they appear to have spawned before they died, leaving huge
numbers of their offspring in their place.
Population Takes A Nose Dive Surveys conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension biologists last spring had revealed that the annual “set” of young-of-the-year scallops was enormous and on track to support a commercial take rivaling or surpassing those of the robust hauls of the last two years.
But when the scientists donned wetsuits and returned to their underwater survey areas throughout the Peconics early last month, they found the ghostly signs of an epic massacre: thousands of scallops sitting where they died, their shells gaping open.
“We call them ‘cluckers,’” Dr. Stephen Tettelbach, who leads the surveying for Cornell, said of the dead scallops, whose twin shells have remained attached and sitting on the bay floor. “Based on the cluckers, it looks like the mortality happened a while ago — a few months, probably. The pattern was the same everywhere we went — there were no freshly dead adult scallops. They had no tissue left in them. So whatever happened to them happened a while ago.”
A longtime marine biology professor for Long Island University at Southampton College and C.W. Post College, Dr. Tettelbach has been conducting bi-annual surveys of scallop populations since LIU and Cornell began an effort to restore the scallop stocks depleted by the brown tides that beset the bays between 1986 and 1995. Through the Cornell hatchery in Southold, the initiative released more than 10 million seedling-sized scallops into the bay over the last two decades in the hope of restoring the spawning foundation for the species.
Looking For Answers Since discovering this year’s die-off, Dr. Tettelbach and other scientists have been exploring what could have caused the mortality.
The destruction of harmful algae blooms was quickly ruled out, because there were none in the Peconics this year — the second straight year that the destructive successor to the brown tides, a red algae bloom that scientists have dubbed “rust tide,” has been absent from local bays, after a 15-year run of increasingly dense blooms.
Dr. Tettelbach himself had pinned a large die-off of scallops in the same area in 2012 on the dense blooms of rust tide that killed what had looked to be a robust stock just weeks before the harvest began.
The second thought about this year’s event — a disease of some sort — also is being seen as unlikely, because the die-off does not appear to have extended to juvenile scallops, which the survey divers saw alive and in great abundance.
And the vast extent of the mortality could not be chalked up to the usual cast of submarine characters that prey on scallops like crabs, whelks and some fish species.
But there was a wild card this year in the form of an invasion of a certain species of shellfish-eating stingrays that have wiped out oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay.
Thousands of cownose rays, a brown-winged creature that feeds primarily on shellfish, swarmed into East End waters in July and August, roaming the bay bottoms in schools of dozens or hundreds.
Dr. Tettelbach said there were accounts of the rays being seen in Hallock Bay, in Orient, but he has not yet confirmed that they made their way deep into the Peconics. He said the rays could explain the disappearances in some of the areas where large number of scallops had been seen in the spring, and now there are no signs of them at all.
But the species would not be easy to blame for the full extent of scallop losses this summer, since there were so many intact shells left behind as a sign that the scallops simply died where they sat. The shells of scallops set upon by the rays would be crushed, he said.
A Matter Of Climate? Eliminating those considerations turned the former professor’s critical thinking to other environmental factors, and the warm temperatures of the summer.
Data from water monitoring stations at the western end of the Peconics revealed that water temperatures hovered around 84 degrees for several weeks this summer — an unusually long stretch of exceptionally high temperatures, and near what is understood to be the lethal limit for scallops.
In a typical parallel, levels of dissolved oxygen in the water were also very low — near zero at times — which typically will result in the death of any marine species.
But those conditions have occurred before at various times of past summers, and broad die-offs of scallops were not seen.
Dr. Tettelbach said his hypothesis is that the high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels had set in early enough this year as to coincide with the weeks of early- to mid-summer when scallops are going through their first spawning cycle — some will spawn again in the fall — which can weaken them and make them more sensitive to environmental conditions.
“What I’m thinking is that the stress from spawning combined with environmental stressors may have been the cause,” he said, noting that if his hypothesis is correct, it would exacerbate concerns about a trend of warming waters. “We’ve had water temperatures in the Peconics over 80 degrees the last five years. Years ago, we never saw that.”
Impacting Local Economy Word of the scientific findings was not news to area baymen, some of whom routinely do their own pre-season surveying to keep tabs on their economic prospects for the fall.
Many didn’t even set out in their boats in search of scallops on Monday, the first day of the season in New York State waters.
“I went clamming today,” Edward Warner, a bayman from Hampton Bays, who is also a Southampton Town Trustee, said on Monday. “The only other time I can remember not going scalloping on the first day was, maybe, 1986, the first year we had the brown tide.”
Among those who did go, many found little return for their efforts.
“I had 14,” said Stuart Heath, a bayman from Montauk who scoured traditional scallop grounds in Shelter Island Sound. “I went all around North Haven, from Margarita guy’s house … to Sag Harbor, around the moorings, Barcelona, all around Northwest. Terrible. We’ve had a terrible year already — now this.”
Wainscott bayman Greg Verity said he ran his small boat across to the North Fork and found enough scallops to fill several bushel baskets, but he was still well short of the 10 bushels that a bayman is allowed to harvest each day.
East Hampton’s baymen said there’s only a faint glimmer of hope, when East Hampton waters open next week, that there may be some scallops lurking in areas that haven’t been prospected.
The Cornell scientists conduct their surveys in the string of bays connected to Great Peconic Bay, from Flanders Bay in the west to Orient Harbor in the east. They do not survey any of the waters off East Hampton — where scalloping is not allowed until this coming Sunday.
Pre-season scouting has not given East Hampton’s baymen much cause for hope, either.
Mr. Heath and Mr. Verity said they’d heard talk of scallops in Three Mile Harbor, where the town releases thousands of hatchery-raised baby scallops each year. But that supply is often depleted quite quickly, especially when the harvest in other areas is poor.
On Monday evening, Mr. Verity and Sara Miranda were counting themselves as lucky while they shucked their way through the briny pile of scallops on a steel table set up in a trailer next to Mr. Verity’s cottage in Wainscott.
“I’ll sell ’em to whoever wants ’em,” he said, as he flicked the glistening white morsels of meat into a pile.
The scene was not being replicated in many of the seafood shops around the region.
“So far, we’ve got nothing, not even one bushel,” said Danny Coronesi at Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays, one of the areas largest buyers.
“I’ve been here a long time. We’ve never had this. Even on bad years, opening day some guys would come in with them.” He added, “We had thought this was going to be a great year.”
Comment from Win With Wind: Scientists quoted think global warming is causing this die-off. Are scallops the canary in the coal mine for the marine environment and when will all local fishermen understand that global warming will destroy their industry, not offshore wind?