UMCES will conduct marine life research on US Wind's 80,000-acre offshore wind lease. Courtesy photo.

UMCES to Study Marine Life Effects of Offshore Wind Development

With several large-scale projects underway along the mid-Atlantic coast, offshore wind energy will soon be a ubiquitous part of waterfront industry. But a lot of people wonder about the impact of large wind turbines on marine life and birds.

One of the big players in offshore wind development has just announced a partnership with Maryland researchers to look into just that. US Wind, Inc., based in Baltimore, is giving $11 million in funding to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) for three research projects taking place over the next decade.

Researchers will study the impact of new underwater structures on black sea bass. Photo: UMCES

An eight-year fisheries monitoring program will study how much black sea bass change their aggregation (schooling) behaviors change before, during, and after offshore wind farm construction. Because black sea bass tent to aggregate on structures like artificial reefs and wrecks, they may be drawn to the underwater foundations of new wind turbines.

UMCES will also use funds to continue operating a whale detection system for North Atlantic right, humpback, fin, and sei whales from now into 2023. The near-real-time system transmits alerts on the presence of whales using whale vocalizations and other technology.

And in a separate whale and dolphin detection project, long-term passive acoustic monitoring will be done to determine the marine mammals’ presence and migration patterns in and around the offshore wind lease. Listening devices will be deployed to track the position of large whales and dolphins, along with equipment to listen for porpoises, fish, sharks, rays and turtles. The research may shed light on the potential effects of wind turbine construction on the animals.

“As US Wind works to develop offshore wind off Maryland’s coast, it’s imperative that we do so responsibly,” says Jeff Grybowski, US Wind CEO.

The planned work will go a long way in filling knowledge gaps that still exist about offshore wind’s effects on the marine environment,” adds Senior Director of Environmental Affairs Laurie Jodziewicz.

UMCES will conduct the research in US Wind’s 80,000-acre federal lease area off the coast of Ocean City. US Wind acquired the lease area in 2014. In 2017 and 2021, the state approved two US Wind projects. The first, known as MarWin, will be able to power over 80,000 Maryland homes using up to 22 turbines located 17 miles from shore. The company estimates it will start generating power in 2025.

The second, called Momentum Wind, will be significantly larger, powering more than 350,000 homes. It brings with it Maryland’s first permanent factory manufacturing offshore wind components, Sparrows Point Steel.

In addition to the newly-funded UMCES research projects, US Wind is also doing aerial digital surveys to identify birds that may be displaced or avoid the wind farm once the turbines are installed. The reports gathered from all the projects will be made public to inform offshore wind development for the years to come.

“We’re really pleased with this continued partnership with US Wind on important questions related to the environmental impacts of offshore wind development,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin. “We look forward to working with them along with state and federal agencies to help make the best decisions to minimize impacts to the environment.” 

-Meg Walburn Viviano