The impact of construction of the ever larger offshore turbines on marine life has been debated for long, and now, with capacity expansion at a huge scale, the issue is set for a relook.
Onshore Wind Energy has long been forced to combat the unfortunate incidence of bird deaths caused by it. Offshore wind by contrast, only had to suffer accusations of being a blight on the landscape to some. Now, it seems even that is set to end, with environmentalists winning a key battle to investigate its role in the death of whales.
Orsted and Atlantic Shores, two firms involved in installing offshore wind farms off New Jersey have stumped up $26 million for research into the claims. Similar studies are already underway in other states where whales have beached and died near offshore wind energy installations. The studies are a pre-emptive effort to minimise the risk to reputation and plans should anecdotal evidence be cited as a way to gather more opposition to offshore wind energy plans across coastal US. 2023 -25 is widely being seen as a pivotal moment for offshore wind capacity additions in the US, as the country seeks to green its grid further. European and American wind energy firms have a lot riding on this expansion, having ceded the massive China market to Chinese firms that have emerged in a big way since 2015.
In North America, some of the best offshore wind sites also host the North Atlantic right whale. Less than 400 North Atlantic right whales survive, and their habitat—feeding and mating grounds off New England and Canada, breeding grounds in the southeast, and migration routes in between—overlap with many of the offshore wind sites targeted for development. And wildlife advocates worry what increased ship traffic and construction activity around those sites could mean for whales and other species.
In New Jersey, the plan is to place listening devices on the ocean floor to record the presence of whales and other marine mammals. They will also launch an underwater glider equipped with sensors capable of hearing whale communication. The program also includes tracking the movement of various types of fish.
Whale deaths have regularly been blamed on the construction of wind turbines off the coasts in North America and Europe as well. No such protests or reports have been made public as fas as regions in Asia or other parts of the world go.
The US government has been studying mammal deaths since 2016 when a spike in the mortality of humpback whales was recorded. Since then, 186 animals have died.