On March 18th Chris Paparo, the manager of Stony Brook University’s Marine Sciences Center reported a sighting of a mother right whale with her calf just 300 yards off an East Hampton ocean beach! #3720, as she is called, had travelled from waters near Wassaw Island, Georgia, where she and her calf were last seen on Jan. 19th 2021, their final destination perhaps Cape Cod bay, or as far north as the gulf of St. Lawrence.
We all know that the right whale is a critically endangered species with less than 400 individuals still alive and perhaps less than 100 reproducing females. Spotting calves with their mothers represents a glimmer of hope.
With plans to build an offshore South Fork Wind Farm 35 miles east of Montauk point and run a submarine cable coming ashore on a Wainscott beach, I could not help wonder how the developer (Ørsted) plans to safeguard these magnificent marine mammals.
Here is my lay person report.
- Ørsted takes this very seriously. I spoke with Sophie Hartfield Lewis, Ørsted Head of U.S. Permitting. Safeguarding whales are clearly dear to her heart. Together with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution they are tackling issues like the correct distance between a source of submarine noise, such as pile driving, and a whale straying into the area. At what distance is there assured harm to the whale’s hearing (permanent or temporary)? At what distance do all drilling operations need to be halted? Currently that stands at 1 km depending on what marine species is involved and the type of noise emitted, including the noise frequency. F.ex. frequencies above 200 mHz are deemed safe because whales don’t hear them or because they don’t have adverse reactions to them.
- I also learned about techniques used to dampen noise. (a) There is something called a ‘Big bubble curtain’ (BBC): it consists of a flexible tube fitted with special nozzle openings and installed on the seabed around the pile. Compressed air is forced through the nozzles producing a curtain of rising, expanding bubbles. These bubbles effectively attenuate noise by scattering sound on the air bubbles, absorbing sound, or reflecting sound off the air bubbles! (b) There is the Hydro-Sound Damper (HSD): it consists of a fisher net with different sized elements, laid out at various distances from each other, and encapsulating the pile. HSD elements can be foam plastic or gas-filled balloons. Noise is reduced as it crosses the HSD due to reflection and absorption. (c) There is the AdBm, Helmholz resonator: it consists of large arrays of Helmholtz resonators, or air filled containers with an opening on one side that can be set to vibrate at specific frequencies to absorb noise, deployed as a “fence” around pile driving activities. Sophie told me that if operations were to start tomorrow, they would use BBC.
- I spoke with Catherine Bowes of the National Wildlife Foundation. Key recommendations include: seasonal & temporal restrictions on pile driving; real-time monitoring of science-based exclusion zones; underwater noise limits; vessel speed restrictions; and commitments to pre, during & post-construction monitoring to ensure we learn as we go, in launching this new clean energy industry. This last point is essential for informing impact mitigation strategies along the coast.
Sophie Hartfield Lewis directed me to an online pdf. Pages 100-166 directly concern mitigation strategies for the SFWF. It is titled “Protected Species Mitigation and Monitoring Plan South Fork Wind, LLC.“ I warn the reader: it gets pretty involved.
The world has seen an increasing and alarming number of extinctions in recent years. And that’s only the ones we know about. Ultimately, protecting threatened species protects us, the human species, because loss of biodiversity has health impacts among many other ill effects. Just google ’loss of biodiversity.’ Simultaneously, we are existentially threatened by climate change. Thus, we have no choice. We need to save species like the right whale and we need offshore wind energy.
Win With Wind held a virtual seminar on
Offshore Wind Farms & Protection of Endangered Species
Q&A with 2 renowned experts:
Catherine Bowes, Program Director, National Wildlife Federation
Sophie Hartfield Lewis, Head of Environment & Marine Affairs, Ørsted
Wednesday Jun 9, 2021, 4:00 – 5:30 PM
The seminar can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube: