Offshore wind energy developers selling power to the New York State are required to make non-proprietary environmental data publicly available “as soon after collection [as] is practicable for use by third parties in decision-making around adaptive management” (NYSERDA 2020). The requirement is also intended to improve general understanding of wildlife populations and marine ecosystem dynamics (NYSERDA 2019). This report is intended to facilitate transparency and sharing of non-proprietary environmental data for offshore wind (OSW) energy development, including projects selling power to the State, by reviewing key wildlife-focused databases to which data owners can submit their raw data or derived data products. In order for a database to aid in achieving NYSERDA’s data transparency goals for OSW developers, and stay within the wildlife-focused scope of this report, it was considered that a database must at minimum (1) focus on wildlife (including fishes, birds, bats, marine mammals, sea turtles, marine invertebrates, and benthic communities), (2) host data expected to be collected by developers, (3) have geographic relevance, and (4) accept raw data produced by other parties, and share these data publicly (either on demand or by request). For each general type of wildlife data expected to be collected by developers and their consultants, this report first identifies relevant databases that can receive and house such data using the four criteria listed above. From those, a second set of more detailed criteria were used to identify a subset of databases most appropriate for meeting the State’s data transparency goals.
A total of 15 databases are recommended as primary or secondary repositories for different types of raw data generated by OSW developers and their contractors. Some, such as OBIS-SEAMAP and Movebank, have widespread utility, as they accept multiple types of data for a range of taxa, but may not be the best choice for some specific data types. Other recommended databases tend to be more specialized, including those dedicated to taxa- or technology-specific animal tracking data (Motus Database, Seabird Tracking Database, Animal Telemetry Network Data Assembly Center, Ocean Tracking Network); at-sea survey data (the Northwest Atlantic Seabird Catalog); onshore bird survey data (eBird); bat survey data (NABat); coral and sponge data (the National Database for Deep Sea Corals and Sponges); passive acoustic data (BatAMP, NABat, NCEI Passive Monitoring Archive); and whale photo ID data (the North Atlantic Fin Whale Catalog, North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, and the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Database). Key databases for derived data products, rather than raw data, that are relevant to OSW development in the eastern United States include Marine Cadastre, Digital Coast, the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, and the Northeast Ocean Data Portal.
Regardless of the database(s) chosen to host data, it is recommended that to meet New York State’s data transparency objectives, offshore wind energy data contributors do the following:
- Follow all relevant guidelines and recommendations for the submission of wildlife data, such as those from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and regional science entities. As different states may have specific requirements regarding data collection, transparency, or housing, reaching out to relevant state agencies before data collection begins will also help ensure any obligations are met.
- Develop data sharing plans and communicate them to all relevant parties well ahead of time, as government agency recommendations (and database capabilities) may change over time.
- Consider effort data (where relevant) as essential information and prioritize effort data for submission alongside observations.
- Co-collect and report appropriate abiotic environmental data for interpretation of wildlife information as needed. Examples include water temperature data to assist with interpretation of aquatic passive acoustic monitoring, and data on sediment characteristics that can help understand benthic community structures. Such abiotic data were not the focus of this report, but best practice is to report any abiotic data necessary for interpretation alongside wildlife information.
- Devote resources to developing comprehensive metadata for all data types following Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) metadata standards1 (or other standards as appropriate). Detailed standards exist for both spatial and non-spatial data types.
- Disseminate raw data to the most appropriate database(s) as soon as feasible following internal quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC), to maximize the data’s exposure and utility. NYSERDA specifies that such data sharing must occur “as soon after collection [as] is practicable” (NYSERDA 2020). Based on discussion with regulators, scientists, and other stakeholders, sharing data within two years is strongly recommended, although the feasibility of this timeline may depend on data type and individual project circumstances.
- Submit project metadata to the environmental metadata base in the Tethys Knowledge Base, so that interested parties can quickly identify what data have been collected at the project site and where they can access those data and additional information.
- Share derived data products (e.g., model outputs, summary maps) as well as raw data.
While most taxa and data type combinations discussed in this report have clear database options, there are also some gaps. For example, benthos, zooplankton and fish data, Protected Species Observer (PSO) data, and some other data types are poorly served by extant databases (either because relevant databases do not exist, they do not accept private data, or do not permit public access to those data). Data collected by the OSW industry that lack a clear “home” in an existing database should be housed and made available by the data originator directly (for example, on a project website) until opportunities arise to submit those data to other databases. Data originators are also encouraged to consider potential support for the development of appropriate public databases.
As the offshore wind energy industry continues to develop in the U.S., and increasing resources are channeled into environmental monitoring, well-considered data collection, coordination, and dissemination are becoming increasingly important. Focused efforts on the above fronts will make the submitted data as useful and accessible as possible for future analyses, create future efficiencies, and ensure decision-makers have the best information available to manage this growing industry.