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Empire Wind and WCS announce extension of acoustic marine monitoring project in New York Bight

(UTC)
Image courtesy of WCS/Ocean Giants
Image taken under NMFS MMPA/ESA Permit no. 18786-04

Project Is designed to generate data on large whales and protect marine mammals.

New York, September 7, 2022- Empire Wind and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced today the extension to 2028 of their historic agreement to monitor large whales in the lease area of Empire Wind, an offshore wind project located in the New York Bight, off the southern coast of Long Island.

The new agreement ensures that important data to protect wildlife in the New York Bight will be collected during the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction phases of the wind project.

Two deployed moored acoustic monitoring buoys located in the New York Bight within Empire Wind's lease area have already compiled more than 2,000 days of monitoring data and have detected more than 18,000 whale sounds in near real-time, including more than 2,600 detections this year alone. The acoustic monitoring agreement is between Empire Wind, a joint venture between Equinor and bp, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), which invented and operates the buoys.

Siri Espedal Kindem
Siri Espedal Kindem

“As a new industry, it is crucial that we establish best-in -class practices throughout the development phase of our projects from the start. The technology that will be deployed over this ten-year agreement provides Equinor the ability to assess our activities in real-time and ensure that we are putting marine life first in our operations,” said Siri Espedal Kindem, President Equinor Wind US.

“New York State is proud to lead offshore wind development in the U.S. through an industry that is backed by science and environmental research and data. We applaud Equinor and the Wildlife Conservation Society for expanding their partnership and ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship and understanding marine life – setting a strong example for how strategic collaboration can mitigate potential risks and support responsible project development,” said Doreen M. Harris, President and CEO, NYSERDA.

The two buoys use WHOI-developed near real-time passive acoustic monitoring (NRT PAM) technology that detects the distinct sounds of different whale species (there is also an archival recorded aspect as well). Data collected will result in considerable new knowledge on whale occurrence and behavior in and around the Empire Wind lease area. The sounds that are detected and recorded by the buoys to date came from four large whale species: fin, humpback, sei, and North Atlantic right whales. The most commonly detected whale sound was a low frequency downsweep, called a 20Hz song note, that is produced by fin whales.

“The data from this acoustic monitoring and our analyses clearly demonstrate that several large whale species are seasonally present, and some for extended periods of time in the New York Bight. This ongoing collaboration provides invaluable data on how these whales are using the New York Bight. In turn, this data can be used to inform best practices to minimize impacts on wildlife from the development of offshore wind energy,” said Dr. Howard C. Rosenbaum, the Project Principal Investigator and Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program.

“The whale vocalizations detected by the buoys over the past six years highlights the importance of developing offshore wind responsibly and seeking ways to minimize impacts on marine mammals and other wildlife. Combined with individual sighting data from boats and aircraft, the vocalizations provide important baseline information on the frequency and number of animals present in and around the project area. We are delighted to continue our collaboration on this important topic with the experts at WCS,” said Scott Lundin, Head of US Permitting and Environmental Affairs, from Equinor.

Mark Baumgartner, Project Principal Investigator and WHOI Marine Ecologist, said, “These buoys are part of a network of identical buoys deployed all along the U.S. east coast designed to monitor for whales and alert stakeholders in near real time. This network is especially helpful for reducing risks to the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species that lives on the east coasts of the U.S. and Canada.”

The two acoustic buoys supported by the project are deployed as part of a broad effort to generate important data prior to construction of the Empire Wind project. The effort will continue to provide near real-time monitoring for more than a decade, both during and after construction, for the four species of large whales. This information will help Empire Wind and future offshore wind developments mitigate risks to these species from project activity, while also offering insight into any potential impact that wind farm construction and operation might have on these species. WCS began this monitoring in 2016 and Equinor began supporting it in 2019.

Information that is collected from the project is available to the public on whalesofnewyork.wcs.org  and dcs.whoi.edu  The data can also be accessed at an exhibit kiosk at WCS’s New York Aquarium  in Coney Island.

About Empire Wind

Empire Wind is being developed by Equinor and bp through their 50-50 strategic partnership in the US. Empire Wind will power more than 1 million homes and generate 2.1 GW of power. For more information, please visit www.empirewind.com .

About Equinor Renewables US

Equinor is one of the largest offshore wind developers in the U.S., where it operates two lease areas, Empire Wind and Beacon Wind. The projects plan to provide New York State with 3.3 gigawatts (GWs) of energy—enough to power nearly two million homes—including more than 2 GWs from Empire Wind and 1,230 megawatts from Beacon Wind 1.

bp in the US

bp’s ambition is to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero. bp has a larger economic footprint in the United States than anywhere else in the world, investing more than $130 billion in the economy and supporting about 245,000 jobs. For more information on bp in the US, visit www.bp.com/us .

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242. Listen to the WCS Wild Audio podcast here .

About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, visit www.whoi.edu