Deepwater Wind has agreed to adopt additional protective measures to minimize harm to the endangered North Atlantic right whales during the initial construction stages of its proposed wind farm in federal waters off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The company signed an agreement with Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which collectively developed these extra protective measures.
North Atlantic right whales face a number of threats, said Michael Jasny, an NRDC senior policy analyst and director of the marine mammal protection project. Approximately 400 to 500 right whales remain in existence. Jasny said they’re vulnerable to collisions with ships, disruptive underwater noises from shipping and industrial activities, and pollution.
The area off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where Deepwater Wind has proposed its federal offshore wind farm, is a right whale habitat.
“We have seen the most significant aggregations of North Atlantic right whales ever documented right in Rhode Island Sound,” said Tricia Jedele, vice president and director of advocacy for Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island office.
Some whales migrate through the Rhode Island Sound en route to their winter calving grounds off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. They’re known to feed below of Cape Cod in late winter through early spring, even though they primarily forage further north in the gulf of Maine.
The agreement prohibits noisy activities, such as pile driving and sub-bottom profiling that will happen in the early construction stages, as the company identifies the right location for wind turbines. It also requires construction vessels to slow down when right whales are most likely to be in the area.
“Without effective mitigation, these activities could injure right whales through vessel collision or noise exposure or disrupt their migration or feeding,” said Jasny.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said the agreement took months of work with scientists and environmental organizations.
“At the end of the day, we’re very thrilled that we were able to collectively come to a place where we believe we can continue development of this important wind farm site while protecting marine mammals, in particular the North Atlantic right whale,” said Grybowski.
The agreement is groundbreaking, developed with the help of top right whale scientists and endorsed by several environmental groups, said Tricia Jedele, vice president and director of advocacy for Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island office.
“The agreement underscores the importance of stakeholders sitting at the table together to craft solutions that allow us to both capitalize on everything that the ocean has to offer in terms of clean, renewable energy, while also protecting marine resources, including right whales,” said Jedele.
The agreement exceeds existing federal protection requirements, and follows a similar agreement to protect the right whales during the construction of the wind farm just off Block Island.