This report details the objectives, structure, scope, results, and conclusions of the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) contract #M10PC00099, titled “Pilot Study of Aerial High-definition Surveys for Seabirds, Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles.” This project was awarded by BOEM (then Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, BOEMRE) to Normandeau Associates, Inc. (then Pandion Systems, Inc.) on 22 Sep 2010 with an expected period of performance of two years from the award date. The objectives of this study, as stated in the contract, were as follows:
to develop and test a methodology for conducting surveys of birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles in the offshore environment using state of the art survey techniques that are efficient and provide high quality, reproducible data.
This objective was largely inspired by pioneering European offshore wind-wildlife studies using high-resolution aerial imaging survey methodologies. Several such studies are cited in the original Request for Proposal (RFP) and in the contract, including an article by Drs. Chris Thaxter and Niall Burton (2009) of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who reviewed European high-resolution aerial imaging survey methodologies as applied to offshore wind-wildlife studies in the late 2000s, as a follow up to a workshop held in the UK in 2009 on these methodologies, sponsored by the Collaborative Offshore Wind Researches Into the Environment (COWRIE) consortium.
BOEM’s desire to “build on the European experience” was specified in the contract’s scope of work, which also further defined the project’s objectives and scope to specifically include high-resolution aerial imaging surveys and several other criteria and qualifiers as follows: “[BOEM] seeks to establish a safe, effective, affordable and scientifically valid sampling protocol for high-[resolution] aerial transect surveys to determine seasonal and annual variation in distributions and abundances of birds along the Atlantic coast of the United States from the shoreline to 30 miles offshore and to test the utility of the technique for surveys of marine mammals and sea turtles, as well as birds.”
These objectives were translated into a set of tasks and expected project outcomes (deliverables) in the contract as follows:
Tasks (not including administrative, meeting, reporting)
- Evaluate aircraft for safety and effectiveness offshore
- Evaluate high [resolution] cameras and mounting systems
- Develop protocols for camera control and operation
- Evaluate and recommend [onboard] data recording systems
- Propose a valid survey sampling grid or grids and estimate the cost per square mile surveyed
- Develop software to automate data analysis
- Evaluate effectiveness of high-[resolution] aerial transects for surveys of [birds], marine mammals, and sea turtles.