Amid growing concern about the environmental impact of offshore wind development, New Jersey’s environment and energy planners are putting up $3.3 million for studies on how building wind turbine arrays may affect wildlife and fisheries.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and Board of Public Utilities on Wednesday announced funding for studies and said they will soon release shortly a request for proposals. The agencies will also join the Regional Wildlife Science Entity, formed last year with Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York to coordinate monitoring and research of wildlife and marine ecosystems.

Dubbed the Offshore Wind Research & Monitoring Initiative (RMI), the New Jersey interagency effort has three areas of research, to be funded by wind developers Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC, and Ørsted’s Ocean Wind II project with each committing $10,000 per megawatt of planned project capacity – about $26 million in all for long-term research and ecological monitoring.

That first round of funding will cover $60,000 for New Jersey’s entrance into the Regional Wildlife Science Entity.

A block of $865,440 will go for a collaborative effort led by Rutgers University in partnership with NOAA, NMFS and sea clam producers Surfside Seafood Products, LLC, Port Norris, N.J., to develop a specialized surf clam dredge to conduct research in areas where the fishery harvesting overlaps wind-turbine lease areas.

Potential conflicts with the surf clam fleet have been among the major dilemmas for New Jersey’s offshore wind aspirations. Clam operators have insisted they cannot operate safely around turbine fields unless generator towers are spaced 2 nautical miles apart – a position that wind developers say would make lease areas not economically viable.

The research will also look into the other side of that question: The impacts of ocean acidification, caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, on surf clams.

The biggest cost of $2.5 million will pay for collecting data on ecological and physical oceanographic conditions such as seafloor topography, sunlight availability, temperature and stratification, through monitoring with Rutgers’ fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles. One of those electric gliders will work across the New York Bight continental shelf from Sandy Hook to Cape May.

The highly endangered North Atlantic right whale population – now estimated at around 340 animals surviving – swim in New York Bight waters slated for wind power development, raising more concerns of late from environmental groups long committed to supporting renewable energy.

New Jersey officials say the RMI will soon release a request for proposals for a passive acoustic monitoring project to better understand the movements and behaviors of right whales and other baleen whale species.

Agency officials said the initial research projects were selected as priorities based on input from stakeholders and the New Jersey Environmental Resources Offshore Wind Working Group, including a state, federal, fishing industry and environmental organizations.

“This project will be part of larger effort which includes collaboration with nearby state, regional, and federal entities that seeks to protect marine mammals as offshore wind farms are developed along the Eastern Seaboard,” the agencies said in a joint statement.

“This is an exciting time for the development offshore wind energy, a vital component of our work to mitigate and respond to the worsening impacts of climate change,” said DEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette in a joint statement. “As the stewards of our vibrant coastal and ocean resources, my colleagues and I at the Department of Environmental Protection are committed to the continuing pursuit of research and monitoring initiatives that will help us to ensure the responsible development of offshore wind facilities and their long-term maintenance and operation.”

“Through the Research & Monitoring Initiative and these initial awards, we are supporting efforts that collect critical baseline data on whales and their movements along New Jersey’s coastline, as well as contributing to regional collaboration to study the impact of offshore wind development on recreational and commercial fisheries and our rich and diverse wildlife,” said BPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso.

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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