Wind farm ecological impact study underway

URI and DEM conducting research
Sat, 07/08/2017 - 9:00am
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A team of researchers at the University of Rhode Island and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management are conducting two joint research studies to determine the impact of the Block Island Wind Farm on the environment, and how marine resource users will likely respond to ecological changes. 

Tracey Dalton, Professor and Chair of the Department of Marine Affairs at URI, is leading the study along with Julia Livermore, who is the Principal Marine Biologist for DEM. Dalton told The Block Island Times that the genesis of the team’s research was born out of a need to understand the impact of offshore installations on users of the marine environment.

“Coastal activities are central to the cultural landscape in the northeast region and may be affected by offshore wind projects,” explained Dalton. “Understanding how users may respond to changes in the marine environment and human use of the environment is crucial to forming a complete picture of the potential impacts of current and future wind projects.” 

One of the team’s two research projects is aimed at studying the wind farm’s impact on recreational boaters using a mail and on-line survey, while the other is designed to study ecological changes affecting fishermen via face-to-face interviews with both commercial and recreational fishermen. Both projects are funded through the Rhode Island Sea Grant and must completed by the end of January 2018. 

Livermore told The Times that the team’s “second project will assess the ecological impacts to the local marine environment through data analysis of trawl and vent-less lobster trap survey data that was collected by Deepwater Wind contractors. For the ecological impact study, we will interview people who would most likely notice changes to the ecosystem and be impacted by them, such as commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, and charter boat captains.”

“In depth interviews are being conducted with recreational and commercial fishermen to learn about potential environmental changes that they might be seeing in and around the wind farm,” said Dalton. “We intend to compare findings of the ecological surveys and the user interviews to more fully understand any impacts of the wind farm.”

Dalton said the survey team expects to be conducting surveys and interviews throughout the summer and fall. “Ecological data collection and analysis is on-going,” she said. “URI researchers and students are taking the lead on conducting the surveys and interviews of marine resource users. As collaborators, Rhode Island DEM and URI regularly interact throughout the project.” 

“As we develop the survey, we have been holding focus groups with Rhode Island’s recreational boaters,” said Dalton. “We expect to continue to interact with marine resource users throughout the project since they are the focus of the research. We have been reaching out to a number of individuals and organizations in Rhode Island, including the Rhode Island Sea Grant, Deepwater Wind, Block Island residents, recreational and commercial users who might be affected by the wind farm, environmental organizations, and state agencies.” 

Livermore said, “DEM will evaluate the impacts to the marine environment, lead the public workshops, and ultimately work to use project findings in decision-making for future projects. We will host two public workshops in late summer/early fall to discuss the survey findings.”

Dalton, Livermore, and their survey team visited Block Island on June 2, when they toured the island and spoke to people as part of their research. The research team toured different parts of the island, including the Island Free Library, and the Second Bluffs, where they saw the wind farm’s five turbines in operation.

“Our visit to the island helped to provide more context for the research,” said Dalton. “While we were there, we had a chance to talk informally with business owners, staff at environmental organizations, and other island residents. We appreciated that people were willing to share their views and personal stories with us.”  

As for the survey team’s objective with their findings from the two research projects, Livermore said, “Our goal is to have a clearer picture of how the Block Island Wind Farm impacts the marine environment, and how people are now using the area. This information will be useful in making decisions for future projects.”

Learn more about the multi-study marine research investigation at: www.web.uri.edu/dalton/Windfarm.