OCEAN CITY – Officials say a new buoy off the coast of Ocean City will monitor and report on whale activity within the lease area of an offshore wind developer.
Last week, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced the launch of an ocean buoy that monitors and provides daily reports of whales detected off Maryland’s coast.
Officials say the buoy support’s the state’s ongoing efforts to expand their understanding of marine mammals and to support research that will aid environmental assessments such as those conducted for offshore wind development.
The buoy system, located roughly 23 miles offshore, is sited within US Wind’s MarWin lease area and will monitor the presence of humpback, fin, sei, and the critically-endangered North Atlantic Right whale species.
“It’s wonderful to be able to use this state-of-the-art technology to provide alerts about endangered whale species offshore of Maryland,” said Dr. Helen Bailey, a research associate professor at UMCES. “Many people don’t realize that whales pass by the Maryland coast during their winter migration. These real-time detections will be freely available on the Whale Alert and Ocean Alert apps so mariners can see when whales are in the area and slow down to help avoid collisions with whales.”
A U.S. Coast Guard notice to mariners was issued to alert ocean-going vessels and the boating community of the buoy’s location. Data collected from the buoy will be transmitted to shore, verified by UMCES scientists, and shared daily on the buoy website: robots4whales.whoi.edu.
“Year-long whale detection information from this buoy will contribute to an expanded understanding of species presence off our coasts across all seasons,” said Catherine McCall, director of DNR’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Management. “We look forward to continuing work with partners to advance our understanding of wildlife patterns to inform offshore wind development off of Maryland’s coast.”
The deployment of the new buoy is scheduled for at least one year and will support current and near-real-time alerts to help inform on-water changes in vessel traffic and develop recommendations for mitigation efforts to protect marine life during construction and maintenance of Maryland offshore wind activities. Officials with US Wind say they are coordinating with DNR, MEA, UMCES and Woods Hole to monitor marine mammal activity in the company’s lease area.
“The deployment of this whale monitoring buoy is a major achievement for science and research …,” said Todd Sumner, director of permitting for US Wind. “The information obtained from this buoy will ensure greater protection of marine life in our lease area, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.”
US Wind acquired an 80,000-acre federal lease area off the coast of Maryland in 2014. And in 2017, the company was awarded Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs) from the state of Maryland for the first phase of its MarWin project. In total, the company’s lease area can support approximately 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy capacity.
In 2019, Maryland passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which increased the state’s offshore wind energy requirements, calling for an additional 1.2 GW to be procured from developers with projects near the state’s coast.
“The Maryland Energy Administration is committed to supporting research projects which help inform offshore wind development,” said Eric Coffman, division director of energy programs at MEA. “This project will provide important data about the presence of marine wildlife and their behavioral patterns off the coast of Maryland, which can assist offshore wind developers plan their construction and operations activities to mitigate any potential impacts while aiding overall marine wildlife conservation efforts.”
Officials say DNR and MEA have supported several research initiatives to help provide critical information necessary when evaluating potential offshore wind deployment. They say such initiatives help the state to better understand the physical characteristics, wind resources, and local and migratory wildlife of the mid-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.
MEA has also funded a number of focused studies analyzing Maryland’s port infrastructure, steel fabrication facilities, and offshore wind supply chain capabilities. These research initiatives help provide key information to offshore wind project developers to facilitate the development of plans, which must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management prior to construction.