Quantcast

Conservation Groups, Offshore Wind Developer Reach Agreement to Safeguard Endangered Right Whales

Renewable Energy

This morning, together with our colleagues at National Wildlife Federation and Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council announced an agreement with Deepwater Wind, a major offshore wind developer, to safeguard North Atlantic right whales during the initial phases of development off southern New England. The agreement provides more protection than the administration has required thus far, and right whales are very much in need of protection.

Photo credit: NRDC

Right whales got their name because they were deemed the “right whale” to hunt, and they were driven to near-extinction by whaling. It’s been almost eighty years since they were legally killed, but they remain critically endangered in the Atlantic. They haven’t recovered because of a number of other threats they face.

For one, right whales whales are highly vulnerable to collision with ships, as they often feed on copepods just below the water’s surface, where they can be struck but not seen. They also have a terrible history of entanglement in fishing gear. Underwater noise from shipping and industrial activity is a serious threat: it disrupts their behavior and is destroying their ability to communicate. And pollution is degrading their habitat. 

So it’s clear that we have to do more to protect right whales—to preserve them from extinction and give them a chance to recover.

The wind development areas off Rhode Island and Massachusetts are right whale habitat. Some whales migrate through these waters en route to their winter calving grounds off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina; and, while they primarily forage further north in the Gulf of Maine, they’re known to feed down below Cape Cod as well, particularly in late winter and early spring. Indeed, the largest right whale feeding aggregations ever seen have occurred in Rhode Island Sound—more than 100 animals, which is remarkable for this species.

In entering today’s agreement, we intend to protect right whales during the initial phases of wind farm development: during pile driving, which may be needed to install meteorological towers, and during sub-bottom profiling, a process that uses loud sound to survey areas just below the seafloor. Without effective mitigation, these activities could injure the whales through vessel collisions or noise exposure, or disrupt their migration or feeding. 

At the heart of the agreement is a traffic-light system of red, yellow and green periods. Pile-driving and sub-bottom profiling are prohibited during the red period, when right whales are most likely to be in the area; and additional mitigation applies during the yellow months, when right whales are less likely to occur. Additionally, some measures would run throughout the year, when the light is green but right whale occurrence remains a possibility. The agreement includes:

  • Restrictions on pile-driving and sub-bottom profiling during the winter and early spring months. We believe that separating these activities from the whales is the most effective way of reducing risk.
  • A 10-knot speed limit for all project vessels from Nov. 1 through May 15, to reduce risk of ship-strikes. The measure in our agreement goes beyond the government’s speed regulation, extending the speed limit across the entire development area and the transits ships make to get there, and applying it to all project vessels regardless of length. 
  • Use of the best commercially available technologies to reduce pile-driving noise during the yellow period. Noise-reduction and attenuation technologies have been developed in Europe, which is several years ahead of us in offshore wind production, and this measure begins to put them in use here.
  • Better surveillance to spot right whales, to reduce risk of injury and disruption of foraging from noise exposure. These monitoring measures include requirements for expert ship-based observers; restrictions on operations at night and in low-visibility conditions; and use of aerial surveillance and/or passive listening devices to detect whales during the yellow period. The government requires operators to temporarily halt operations when whales are discovered within a small safety radius; our agreement enlarges the size of this safety margin for some activities.

Today’s agreement will help conserve one of the most endangered marine mammal species off our shores.

--------

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

15 Weird and Wonderful Facts About Whales

International Court Rules Japan's 'Research' Whaling Illegal in Landmark Case

Study Finds Proximity to Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Rigs Threaten Humpback Whales

--------

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Micromobility is the future of transportation in cities, but cities and investors need to plan ahead to avoid challenges. Jonny Kennaugh / Unsplash

By Carlo Ratti, Ida Auken

On the window of a bike shop in Copenhagen, a sign reads: Your next car is a bike.

Read More Show Less
An American flag waves in the wind at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, California on May 17 where a trial against Monsanto took place. Alva and Alberta Pilliod, were awarded more than $2 billion in damages in their lawsuit against Monsanto, though the judge in the case lowered the damage award to $87 million. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

By Carey Gillam

For the last five years, Chris Stevick has helped his wife Elaine in her battle against a vicious type of cancer that the couple believes was caused by Elaine's repeated use of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide around a California property the couple owned. Now the roles are reversed as Elaine must help Chris face his own cancer.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Butterfly habitats have fallen 77 percent in the last 50 years. Pixabay / Pexels

The last 50 years have been brutal for wildlife. Animals have lost their habitats and seen their numbers plummet. Now a new report from a British conservation group warns that habitat destruction and increased pesticide use has on a trajectory for an "insect apocalypse," which will have dire consequences for humans and all life on Earth, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Six of the nineteen wind turbines which were installed on Frodsham Marsh, near the coal-powered Fiddler's Ferry power station, in Helsby, England on Feb. 7, 2017.

Sales of electric cars are surging and the world is generating more and more power from renewable sources, but it is not enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to stop the global climate crisis, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Read More Show Less
"Globally, we're starting to see examples of retailers moving away from plastics and throwaway packaging, but not at the urgency and scale needed to address this crisis." Greenpeace

By Jake Johnson

A Greenpeace report released Tuesday uses a hypothetical "Smart Supermarket" that has done away with environmentally damaging single-use plastics to outline a possible future in which the world's oceans and communities are free of bags, bottles, packaging and other harmful plastic pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.

Read More Show Less
Private homes surround a 20 inch gas liquids pipeline which is part of the Mariner East II project on Oct. 5, 2017 in Marchwood, Penn. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

The FBI is looking into how the state of Pennsylvania granted permits for a controversial natural gas pipeline as part of a corruption investigation, the AP reports.

Read More Show Less
Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles. Carolina Wild Ones / Facebook

Three cows who were washed off their North Carolina island by Hurricane Dorian have been found alive after swimming at least two miles, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less