Environmental challenges in planning and permitting offshore wind energy: lessons from automated radio telemetry of terns in the Gulf of Maine, USA

Offshore wind can have significant impacts on seabirds directly through collision mortality, and indirectly through barrier effects, displacement from habitats, and impacts of marine foraging habitats. Developing offshore wind energy in a sustainable and timely manner requires quantifying and managing for potential adverse wildlife impacts. However, quantifying impacts is challenging, particularly for small marine birds that are difficult to monitor. We used new automated VHF radio telemetry technology to document movement patterns of Common (Sterna hirundo) and Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea) in the Gulf of Maine. We derived basic information on flight behavior that can be used to help improve collision vulnerability estimates, such as daily foraging patterns, flight distances, and degree of nocturnal foraging. We also used these data to parameterize a new discrete-time Markov model of seabird movement around a colony site. We derived impact functions that estimate the probability of collision fatality as a function of the distance and bearing of wind turbines from a colony. This tool can be used 1) in marine spatial planning exercises to quantitatively identify setback distances under development scenarios given a risk threshold, 2) to examine the ecological and technical trade-offs of development alternatives to facilitate negotiation between objectives, and 3) in the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process to estimate collision fatality under alternative scenarios. 

Jenny Smetzer is a lecturer at Smith College, jointly appointed in the departments of statistical & data sciences and psychology. She is interested in applied ecological research that uses quantitative methods to help inform biodiversity conservation. Prior to joining Smith College, she worked with the Northeast Climate Science Adaptation Center, the USDA Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Jenny has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she was a Fellow in the NSF funded IGERT Offshore Wind program and recieved her PhD in 2017. She has also taught at Mount Holyoke College and Antioch University.

Friday, April 26, 2019 - 3:00pm
Kellogg Room, E-Lab 2