NOAA drafts habitat maps for wind lease zones

BOEM Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) wind energy areas. — Courtesy NOAA

After years of mapping, NOAA, WHOI, UMass Dartmouth, and Howard Marine Research Laboratory researchers have created bottom, or benthic, habitat maps for the eight Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in the Northeast. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management funded the mapping project, which included areas in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. A report from the habitat-mapping project titled “Habitat Mapping and Assessment of Northeast Wind Energy Areas” describes concerns with disturbing benthic environment in the process of assembling wind turbines. “Topics range from bottom water temperatures, bottom topography and features, types of sediments and ocean currents,” a NOAA release states, “to animals that live in and on top of the sediments and in the water column in that area either seasonally or year-round.”

Some of the details given in the release covered aspects of Massachusetts wind farm sites.

“The Massachusetts WEA, covering about 743,000 acres of flat, primarily sandy bottom south of Cape Cod, has been divided into four lease areas,” the release states. “Forty managed fishery species were found ranging from year-round catches of little skate, winter skate, and silver hake to seasonal species including longfin squid, scup, spiny dogfish, and Atlantic herring. Possible habitat disturbance from offshore wind construction and operations include concern for black sea bass (warm season), Atlantic cod (cold season), sea scallops and ocean quahogs (both year-round).”