Aerial wildlife surveys of offshore wind farm site start soon

By on November 15, 2017

A twin-engine plane will be used. (APEM Aviation)

Two companies have been tasked by the federal government with conducting ultra-high resolution aerial digital surveys of wildlife off the coast of North and South Carolina of sites for proposed offshore wind farms.

The survey by APEM, based in Manchester, England, and Normandeau Associates Inc., which has an office in Stanley, N.C., will provide baseline data to help with siting and permitting future developments.

In March, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management awarded a 122,405-acre lease off the northern Outer Banks to Avangrid, operator of the Amazon Wind Farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

The surveys will gather data on birds, marine mammals, sharks, fish, turtles, and other species in an area of almost 10,000 square nautical miles, giving scientists an unparalleled understanding of the area’s wildlife.

“We’re looking forward to starting work on these exciting surveys,” said Dr. Stuart Clough, president of APEM Inc. “It’s important that agencies and developers have very high quality baseline data so that they can make the best decisions possible about future offshore wind farms.”

Information from the surveys will allow scientists to accurately estimate which species are present, how many there are of each species, and where they are most likely to be found.

The images are so detailed that analysts can even work out how high birds are flying and whether they are adults or juveniles.

“We expect to capture around a million ultra-high resolution images in total and usually when we carry out a survey like this the data gathered is pretty much unprecedented,” Clough said.

The area off Corolla, Duck and Southern Shores begins about 24 nautical miles from land and extends 25.7 nautical miles to the southeast, and its reach is 13.5 nautical miles north and .6 nautical miles to the south.

Normandeau is a consulting company that specializes in developing technology to address biological questions. APEM supplies aerial bird and marine mammal surveys for the offshore renewables industry, having carried out over 1,500 surveys.

The two companies are already working on the world’s largest and most detailed offshore wildlife surveys of this kind for the New York Energy Research and Development Authority.

The lease area (in gold) will be just over the horizon. (BOEM)

The bureau is continuing to evaluate other potential lease areas off the Carolinas. Data from the study will assist with that process, according to a press release. When the surveys will take place was not been announced.

The surveys are made possible by techniques developed in the last few years. State-of-the-art camera systems are mounted on twin-engine survey aircraft and capture huge numbers of images.

One of APEM’s newly developed camera systems, Shearwater III, will be used for the surveys. It was developed to push the resolution of images to as low as 0.5 cm per pixel.

“We never know what the surveys will reveal, but we’re always excited to find out,” Clough added.

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