Background: The U.S Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued leases in eight Wind Energy Areas (WEA) along the Northwest Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) from Massachusetts to North Carolina, encompassing >7,000 square km of seafloor for offshore renewable energy (ORE) development. While BOEM is responsible for regulating the development of offshore energy within each of these areas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries is charged with managing and protecting the nation’s living marine resources. At the intersection of these two responsibilities, BOEM and NOAA Fisheries are working closely to ensure that offshore resources are sustainably managed as nascent ORE industries develop.
Project Goals and Objectives: To that end, the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST), has developed a comprehensive multi-scale benthic assessment of the eight Atlantic OCS WEAs. The goal of this partnership is to increase the understanding of the current benthic structure, function and valued resources within the Atlantic WEA network, prior to development. From new and existing data sources, NOAA NEFSC has established a contemporary and comprehensive benthic habitat database that can serve as a baseline for evaluating the potential impacts of ORE construction, operation and decommissioning to benthic marine resources. Being implemented in three phases, this study characterizes the 1) abiotic components, 2) biotic components and 3) abiotic-biotic relations (between habitat and fauna) that will support ecosystem-level assessments and cumulative impact analyses for all eight WEAs. The following report describes a broad-brush assessment of benthic habitats within eight proposed WEAs in the National Marine Fisheries Service Greater Atlantic Region (BOEM Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Planning Areas). The goal of this project is to provide the data necessary to establish a contemporary and comprehensive benthic habitat database for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in the northeastern region of the United States in order to provide insight into benthic environmental issues and potential impacts associated wind power development on the continental shelf. Our investigations included the following WEAs: Massachusetts (MA), Rhode Island – Massachusetts (RIMA), New York (NY), New Jersey (NJ), Delaware (DE), Maryland (MD), Virginia (VA), and North Carolina – Kitty Hawk (NC-KH). The database is established at the J.J. Howard Laboratory of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.