Report on the wind turbine problem for endangered right whales | Climate and Environment News SC

This has been a big summer for wind energy.

In June, massive turbine supports appeared in Nantucket Shoals off the coast of Massachusetts. In August, a ship commissioned by energy company Total Energies began surveying Carolina Long Bay near Myrtle Beach, marking the first step in offshore wind development in the Carolinas.

Now, a government-funded report raises important questions about how these Eiffel Tower turbines will impact whale habitat.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on October 13, saying that impacts from offshore wind turbines on North Atlantic right whales and their aquatic ecosystems, specifically in the Nantucket Shoals region, are difficult to detect due to climate. It changes.

This leaves scientists wondering how waves and “wake” caused by turbine vibration affect the whales’ food.

Hydrodynamics is the wonky term that appears throughout the report to describe the movement of ocean water, and the drag of small prey that drifts within it, both on the surface and below. Large turbines also remove wind energy from the environment; How the water will slow down or change its motion as a result remains a mystery.

“The unknowns are really huge,” said Erin Mayer Gutbrod, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Earth, Ocean and Environment, who served as one of five panelists who co-authored the report. “The main message is that climate change is causing massive shifts in the copepods that whales eat…which makes it really difficult to predict how turbines will impact where whales feed.”

The report was the first comprehensive look at the movement of water around wind turbines due to concern for the endangered whale.

The 87-page document concluded that water movements and their effects on whale prey deserve further research, which will require approval from wind energy companies to allow researchers to monitor the issue continuously in a working partnership.

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“We’ve raised questions…those questions are not a concern yet,” said Douglas Nowacek, another co-author and professor of conservation technology at Duke University’s Marine Laboratory. “We don’t know if these turbines will impact the diet of right whales positively or negatively. They could make it better. We don’t know.”

Offshore wind comes to the South Carolina coast via a “wind energy area” called Carolina Long Bay. It is located 15 miles offshore just from the North Carolina and South Carolina border, near Myrtle Beach. But the turbines there won’t be operational until 2030.

However, policy experts believe that anything that happens with upcoming large wind projects in New England, such as the Nantucket Wind Project, will have ramifications for projects across the East Coast, including South Carolina.

Nantucket Shoals is a unique place, and therefore, “you can’t just cut and paste conclusions and apply them somewhere else” for another wind energy project, Meyer-Gutbrod said. But she said some of the report’s recommendations, which call for the government to increase required monitoring of the movement of right whales and copepods, are applicable throughout the whales’ range, which includes the Carolinas.

For many years, offshore wind development has enjoyed bipartisan support, but Republican support for this renewable energy has waned.

The report’s authors privately briefed the US Congress on the report’s findings on October 13. Nowashek was surprised that the conference was not well attended by members of Congress.

“We weren’t talking about dead whales on the beach and acoustics (in the wind industry),” Novacek said. “It was just a matter of hydrodynamics… they probably weren’t interested.”

GOP members — including Reps. Chris Smith (RN.J.) and Jeff Van Drew (RN.J.) as well as Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) — have made their opposition to offshore wind a central part of their political agendas. Some Republicans have spread misinformation that underwater acoustic sonar used to plan wind turbine placement kills whales.

They falsely claimed that underwater sounds confuse whales, causing them to wander into the path of large ships. Novacek reaffirmed what every other scientist has said in recent months: “There is no connection” between these vocal sounds and dead whales washing up on East Coast beaches.

“The metaphor that the wind energy industry is killing these beached whales is so far-fetched and not even worth talking about,” said Michael Moore, a veterinary scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. He added, “But unfortunately this matter is being talked about… because I hear politicians talking about it.”

Misinformation is spreading as more Atlantic whales turn up dead.  Scientists are worried.

While campaigning in South Carolina on September 25, former President Donald Trump said, “Their windmills are killing whales in numbers that have never been seen before… Nobody’s doing anything about it but they’re just washing up on the beach. “I saw this this weekend. Three of them… they shower every week because the windmills are driving them crazy.”

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims. It is worth noting that his colleague, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, refrained from repeating it.

“I have yet to see any evidence that the wind energy industry is killing whales,” Graham told The Post and Courier at an October 5 news conference. Senator Tim Scott has not made any public statements about the wind and whales.

Both US Senators from South Carolina, Graham and Scott, opposed NOAA’s proposal to expand vessel slowing restrictions aimed at protecting right whales from deadly strikes. The senators pointed to the economic and efficiency costs to the state’s maritime economies.

Moore, who was not involved in the new report, has been outspoken on the debate over how to save the North Atlantic right whale from the brink of extinction. Fewer than 340 whales remain; Their numbers have declined over the past decade despite increased protections, such as rules for slowing ships during the calving season.

Last year, Moore wrote a column for Time magazine explaining the two most urgent impacts on the health of North Atlantic right whales: ship strikes and entanglements. Again, the new report did not mention turbulence and wind “wake” caused by turbines as a new concern for the whales.

But if those two issues require any future “mitigation” — some change to reduce their impact on the whales’ habitat — then the GOP’s false talking points about sonar actually become harmful, Moore said.

Moore compared this type of harm to a doctor providing the wrong treatment because of a wrong diagnosis.

“It’s like treating an infectious disease with a steroid,” Moore said. “If you have a runny nose, you may have an allergy. Again, you may have a bacterial infection. If it’s an infection, you need an antibiotic. Not a steroid.”

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Vineyard Wind, a wind energy project near Nantucket, has now received all required permits to move forward with the installation of 62 turbines off the coast of Massachusetts. Once completed, it will be the largest offshore wind farm in America.

Meanwhile, two projects planned for Carolina Long Bay still need to obtain federal and state regulatory approvals.

Public interest in the plight of right whales has been growing. The same applies to the wind energy sector, said Nowacek, one of the co-authors.

Although right whales typically spend the summer in New England and Canada, the Star News in Wilmington, North Carolina, recently reported that TotalEnergies’ survey vessel still had a dedicated “observer” on board when it began surveying operations in August.

These specialists are trained to recognize marine mammals and alert the crew if one is spotted overboard. The vessel is also voluntarily operating at a maximum speed of 10 knots to allow maximum time to take proactive measures in the event of a right whale being detected.

Whale calving season, which occurs in shallow waters in the Southeast, officially begins on November 1. Joined by the research teams, Mayer-Gutbrod and Nowaszek will continue to monitor the movements of the right whales throughout the season.

Every Friday, the Rising Waters newsletter provides insight into the latest environmental issues affecting the Lowcountry and the rest of the South.

(tags for translation) Environment

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