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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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