By Amber Hewitt, Program Director for the National Wildlife Foundation
Offshore wind power is the nation’s largest, nearly untapped clean energy solution. It presents an opportunity to replace the carbon-polluting fossil fuels that are driving climate change, which threaten marine and coastal ecosystems. It is imperative that as
we advance climate solutions, we do so in a way that protects vulnerable wildlife and habitats. Offshore wind power can and must be developed responsibly – lessening detrimental impacts to wildlife.
Some of the key steps for protecting wildlife during offshore wind power development include the following:
- All offshore wind project siting, construction, and operations decisions are informed by the best available science
and comprehensive input from all relevant stakeholders – including local folks like us.
- Avoid building projects in biologically sensitive areas.
- Consider the migration patterns of avian and marine wildlife when siting projects and planning construction activities.
- Monitoring programs must be in place before, during, and after construction to inform strategies for avoiding,
minimizing, and mitigating potential impacts to wildlife.
- Reduce vessel speeds and advance technology to detect wildlife in real-time to help avoid collisions with marine mammals and sea turtles.
- Minimize loud underwater construction noise and plan loud activities in a way that avoids the presence of vulnerable wildlife, like the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
- Look at the big picture, including potential cumulative impacts of offshore wind projects as well as future shifts in wildlife ranges and other ecological changes that will result from climate change.
Conservation organizations like National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and New Jersey Audubon, along with leading scientists, are at the table advocating for stringent protective measures to be in place from the start, and for ongoing research and monitoring to inform and improve practices going forward. We need to press industry and state and federal governments to employ and require the highest standards of wildlife protection at every stage: siting, planning, construction, operations and maintenance, and all the way through to decommissioning. New observations and lessons learned from trail-blazing projects will continue to guide our shared understanding of how best to protect marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, birds, bats, and marine and coastal habitat.
The urgent threat of climate change demands that we advance large-scale clean energy solutions as quickly as responsible development allows, and we can do that while we protect biodiversity every step of the way.