APEM, Normandeau Associates Conducting World's Largest Digital Aerial Survey of Offshore Wildlife
Following the announcement by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) that the first two phases of a digital aerial survey of offshore wildlife off the Long Island coast have been completed, APEM and Normandeau Associates released details of the project they are carrying out on behalf of NYSERDA.
APEM is conducting the surveys and analysing the images together with Normandeau, a U.S. environmental and regulatory consultancy, to identify birds and other marine species.
Christian Newman, president of APEM’s U.S. office, said: “The images are amazing and we are cataloguing a diverse array of wildlife species over a wide area, with a coverage and definition that has never before been achieved in the United States or anywhere else in the world.”
“We set up the system so that each pixel corresponds to 1.5 centimetres on the ground. This allows us to identify the species for an extremely high percentage of the birds and marine animals in the images.”
To undertake what is said to be the world’s largest and most detailed digital aerial survey of offshore wildlife, covering an area of 43,000 km2, APEM deployed a newly developed system, Shearwater III, in November. The system was developed to push image resolutions to as low as 0.5-cm ground resolution.
To cover such a large area, the team designed two different survey methods.
A transect based approach over the larger planning area uses aircraft flying in parallel lines and provides a broad scale characterisation of the New York Bight offshore planning area.
The second survey method provides greater detail of the proposed wind energy area. It employs a grid-based flight pattern that allows more accurate estimates of the numbers and distribution of wildlife. This creates greater siting, permitting, and monitoring certainty and meets the regulatory guidelines for pre- and post-construction monitoring in the United States, the companies explained.
Ann Pembroke, vice president at Normandeau, said: “By reviewing image quality daily we are able to ensure that the area is surveyed to consistently high standards, providing confidence in the data collected on behalf of NYSERDA as they consider the appropriate use of the offshore planning area.”
Julia Robinson Willmott, project technical director for Normandeau, said: "It will be very interesting to see the natural fluctuations in animal density and distribution during the 3 years of this project. In addition to the animals targeted in the study, we are mapping fish shoals and boats, because we want to get as much information from the data as possible."
The surveys will be conducted four times per year over three years in coordination with visual surveys planned by other New York state and federal entities.
NYSERDA is obtaining this regional-scale baseline information on seasonal wildlife distribution, abundance and movement to inform responsible offshore wind site selection and development. The survey will provide a better understanding of the potential effects of individual offshore wind projects, as well as any possible cumulative effects of multiple projects.
The project is expected to expedite offshore wind development, decreasing uncertainty and reducing costs for ratepayers while minimising wildlife impacts and maximising environmental benefits. The study will provide baseline data as the State pursues ambitious plans to secure 50 per cent of its electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030.
Detailed images of a wide range of species have already been captured during the first summer survey. They include sharks circling large shoals of fish, a female dolphin with its calf, dense shoals of rays, sea turtles, and large numbers of individual sharks, including a huge basking shark. Bird species have also been identified, including shearwaters, bald eagle, double-crested cormorant, petrels, gulls, and terns. Analysis of images from the recently completed fall survey has been initiated.