Scientists tracking bird and bat activity

Using equipment on wind farm tower
Fri, 09/22/2017 - 8:45am

Deepwater Wind, the developer that constructed the Block Island Wind Farm three miles off of the coast of Block Island, is partnering with researchers on a new pilot study aimed at helping scientists track bird and bat activity and their migration patterns off the Atlantic Coast using a tracking station installed on one of the wind farm’s turbine towers. The one-of-a-kind study is funded by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and scientists at the University of Rhode Island, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“This represents the first time this type of research is being conducted near an active offshore wind farm,” said Deepwater Wind spokesperson Meaghan Wims, who noted that the tracking station “will be up through mid-October and then redeployed in the spring.” Wims said the equipment was installed on the foundation platform of turbine tower number one in August. The Block Island Wind Farm has five turbines. 

According to a press release issued by Deepwater Wind, “The tracking station contains four antennas, plus a receiver that collects data on the migrating patterns of birds and bats that scientists have previously tagged with tiny, very high-frequency transmitters, weighing less than 1.5 grams each. These transmitters provide data on any tagged species that fly within a 20-mile radius of the wind farm.”

“This station is among more than 40 tracking stations along the U.S. East Coast, including two receiving stations located on the southern coast of Block Island. The new tracking station at the Block Island Wind Farm will allow researchers to collect more detailed data on wildlife movements in the Rhode Island Sound area. This new technology has been implemented in a coordinated network across eastern North America in the last five years, helping researchers accurately track wildlife movement as they migrate along the Atlantic Coast.”

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dr. Pam Loring said the tracking stations are operated in collaboration with the Motus Wildlife Tracking Network, a coordinated system to track migratory animals marked with digital VHF transmitters throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Motus network is led by Bird Studies Canada in partnership with more than 120 partners.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to pilot digital VHF technology for tracking movements of birds and bats at the first offshore wind energy facility in the United States,” Loring said. “Results from this study will help agency and industry partners balance renewable energy development with conservation of focal wildlife species and will guide the use of this technology at additional offshore sites in the future.”

The Times reported in June on a first-of-its-kind study designed to track two birds that migrate near the wind farm: the roseate tern and the piping plover. That project was spearheaded by Kim Gaffett, the resident Naturalist for the The Nature Conservancy and bird expert, along with Dr. Peter Paton from the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources Science, who conducted the research project from July 1 to Sept. 15.

“This is all part of the same project,” Dr. Paton told The Times. “Now we will have multiple towers — three total — two on Block Island and one on turbine number one to track birds moving off of Block Island near the wind farm.” Paton noted that the data regarding the terns and plovers is part of the Motus network in Canada, “so processing takes time. I am hoping to know in the next couple of months. Bottomline is: we are tracking birds moving through the area from multiple angles, so we should have a better idea about their location in relationship to the Block Island Wind Farm.”

“This newest station on the Block Island Wind Farm, coupled with the two stations on Block Island, represents the first attempt anywhere in the world to assess fine-scale movements of birds and bats near an active offshore wind farm,” said Dr. Paton. “Thus, there is considerable interest from biologists around the United States and across the planet on the results of this research.”

“The Block Island project offers a tremendous opportunity to study the potential impacts from offshore wind projects at a scale where we can make mid-course corrections, if we need to, for larger projects,” said Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, which permitted the Block Island Wind farm through its Ocean Special Area Management Plan. “By working cooperatively on these studies we can bring the best science to bear on this developing industry, to ensure it’s done in a responsible fashion. “

“Deepwater Wind puts leading-edge science and technology to work to solve our country’s energy challenges,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski. “Our Block Island Wind Farm has not only pushed the boundaries of clean energy in the U.S., it’s also deepened the understanding of the marine environment. Now it’s our privilege to be part of cutting-edge research that will help scientists learn more about some of the country’s most important bird and bat species.”

The 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm began providing wind-generated energy to Block Island on May 1 and commercial operations in December of 2016. Deepwater Wind is in the early stages of constructing its second project, the South Fork Wind Farm, a 90-megawatt offshore wind farm that is scheduled to begin serving Long Island in 2022. The company plans to construct the Skipjack Wind Farm, a 120- megawatt wind farm project, scheduled to begin serving Maryland in late 2022.