The United States Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has considerable offshore wind energy potential. Capturing that resource is part of a broader effort to reduce CO2 emissions. While few turbines have been constructed in U.S. waters, over a dozen currently planned offshore wind projects have the potential to displace marine birds, potentially leading to effective habitat loss. We focused on three diving birds identified in Europe to be vulnerable to displacement. Our research aimed to determine their potential exposure to areas designated or proposed for offshore wind development along the Atlantic OCS.
Satellite tracking technology was used to determine the spatial and temporal use and movement patterns of Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata), Red‐throated Loons (Gavia stellata) and Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus), and calculate their exposure to each offshore wind area. We tagged 236 adults in 2012–2015 on the Atlantic OCS from New Jersey to North Carolina; an additional 147 birds tagged in previous tracking studies were integrated into our analyses. Tracking data were analysed in two‐week intervals using dynamic Brownian bridge movement models to develop composite spatial utilization distributions. For each species, these distributions were then used to calculate the spatio‐temporal exposure to each offshore wind area.
Surf Scoters and Red‐throated Loons were exposed to offshore wind areas almost exclusively during migration because these species were distributed among coastal and inshore waters during winter months. In contrast, Northern Gannets ranged over a much larger area, reaching farther offshore and south in winter, thus exhibited the greatest exposure to extant offshore wind areas.
Results of this study provide better understanding of how diving birds use current and potential future offshore wind areas on the Atlantic OCS, and can inform permitting, risk assessment and pre‐ and post‐construction impact assessments of offshore energy infrastructure.