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Wildlife and Renewable Energy: Offshore Wind
Wildlife and Renewable Energy: Offshore Wind

Developing Plans to Track Animals Offshore

Biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BRI, the University of Rhode Island, and Birds Canada are developing guidance for how to integrate automated radio telemetry into pre- and post-construction monitoring plans for offshore wind farms. This technology is used to track animal movements, particularly for small-bodied bird and bat species that cannot handle heavier satellite or GPS transmitters.

USFWS Lead Investigators: Pam Loring, Scott Johnston

URI Lead Investigator: Peter Paton

Bird Studies Canada Lead Investigator: Stuart Mackenzie

BRI Lead Investigators: Kate WilliamsEvan AdamsAndrew Gilbert

Contributing BRI Staff: Iain StenhouseJulia GulkaEd Jenkins

How Automated Radio Telemetry Works

How Automated Radio Telemetry Works

Scientists have been using traditional radio telemetry to track animals for decades. Radio transmitters are deployed on animals, and transmit radio signals to a receiver; these signals provide information on where the animal is located relative to the receiver. Radio transmitters provide less precise location information than satellite or GPS transmitters, but can also be much smaller, and so can be deployed on smaller-bodied animals.

Unlike traditional radio transmitters, which send signals at different frequencies, new coded radio transmitters (brand names are “nanotags” and “lifetags”) emit signals at the same frequency, but each transmitter’s signal is uniquely identifiable. This allows receiver units to be automated and record transmissions from large numbers of transmitters. These new transmitters can weigh less than a gram (or about 20% of the weight of a penny), so they can be safely deployed on a wide range of species. The Motus Wildlife Tracking System is an international network for automated radio telemetry that allows researchers to detect each other’s transmitters and share information across projects, thus greatly increasing the geographic scope of monitoring.

 
Why Use it for Offshore Wind Development?

Why Use it for Offshore Wind Development?

We have limited information on the offshore movements of small shorebirds, songbirds, and migratory tree bats. This makes it difficult to predict risk to these species from planned offshore wind energy development. Automated radio tracking could be used for this purpose, but there are few platforms offshore on which to place receivers (see locations of current receivers in the eastern U.S., left).

Putting receivers on offshore wind turbines, site assessment buoys, or other offshore platforms will allow us to gather new information on the movements of these animals in the marine environment, including their movements relative to offshore wind farms. Building a network of offshore receivers will take time, but a key first step is to develop protocols to help offshore wind developers and regulators integrate this technology into monitoring plans.

Project Goals

Project Goals

Study collaborators are developing monitoring protocols for use of automated radio tracking systems at offshore wind farms. This work is being conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Rhode Island, and Bird Studies Canada, and will be coordinated with a broad group of expert stakeholders. Project components include:

  • Protocols to deploy radio transmitters and receivers to help assess risk and understand the impact of offshore wind energy development on birds and bats
  • Modeling of animal movements offshore relative to receiver detection ranges, to understand the probability of transmitters being detected as animals fly by a network of receivers
  • A free online study design tool to help offshore wind energy developers and regulators determine how many receivers they need to monitor a given offshore wind project, and where those receivers should be placed
  • Framework for coordinating offshore monitoring with the Motus Wildlife Tracking System

If this project is successful, it will help to make automated radio telemetry a consistent component of monitoring plans for offshore wind farms, and greatly improve our understanding of the offshore movements and habitat use of many bird and bat species in the eastern U.S.

Project Activities

Project Activities

An introductory webinar for the Project Advisory Committee (PAC) was held in August 2020. A PDF of the presentation from this meeting, which describes the project's expected end products as well as the structure of the PAC, is available here.

Project Funding and Timeline

Project Funding and Timeline

Funding to for this project came from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), with additional support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program. The project was initiated in spring of 2020 and is expected to be completed in late 2021 or early 2022.
 
Photo Credits: Header image: Aerial view of the Block Island Wind Farm © Ionna22/Finavon under CC BY-SA 4.0; Receiver tower with antennas © K. Curtis; inset of nanotag transmitter © Lotek; Motus Wildlife Tracking System receiver locations (as of May 2020) © Motus Wildlife Tracking System/Bird Studies Canada; Roseate Tern with nanotag © Peter Paton, University of Rhode Island; Roseate Tern with fish © Peter Paton, University of Rhode Island
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