Wind project may ‘adversely affect,’ but not likely to ‘jeopardize,’ endangered marine life, agency says

Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash

By Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
April 7, 2023

A planned wind energy project 15 miles off the shore of Atlantic City is “likely to adversely affect, but is not likely to jeopardize” the continued existence of endangered sea life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in an opinion released this week.

The project will likely not jeopardize endangered whales, sea turtles, or Atlantic sturgeon, or harm their habitats, said the agency. It released the report as part of the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management’s review of the project, which includes plans for 98 wind turbines.

There’s been intense scrutiny in recent months from offshore wind opponents who believe the project may be contributing to marine life washing up dead along the Jersey Shore. At least 11 whales, 24 dolphins, and two porpoises have washed ashore in New Jersey, many decomposed or with severe external injuries, according to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

In February, 30 New Jersey mayors called for a moratorium on offshore wind activity.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has stressed there is “no credible evidence” that offshore wind activities are related to whale deaths. NOAA previously called the spate of whale deaths an “unusual mortality event” affecting whales along the Atlantic Coast since 2016.

“The Murphy administration, in consultation with federal agency partners, continues to prioritize responsible offshore wind development objectives, including through the assessment of potential environmental impacts, avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating adverse effects upon natural resources, including marine species and their habitats,” Murphy spokeswoman Natalie Hamilton said. “The Murphy administration will continue to ground its most important decisions in science and research conducted by independent experts.”

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, which has called for an investigation into the recent whale deaths, said she finds the new report “more alarming than comforting.” Zipf questioned whether the agency measured the impacts of construction, installation, and maintenance for 98 turbines, transmission facilities, and cables.

“Most importantly, how did the agency make this conclusion, especially for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale?” she said. “The federal government has yet to complete and release the five-year protection plan for this most magnificent species on the edge of extinction. That plan is for determining how to protect this species. It would be outrageous to make a decision before that plan is complete.”

Proponents of offshore wind say climate change is the biggest threat to marine life and oceans.

“Meanwhile, we need to keep the momentum going toward a 21st Century clean energy economy that will protect the Jersey Shore, clean our air, slow the warming of our oceans, and create family-sustaining jobs — all while actually protecting our oceans and the marine environment,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

Nikita Biryukov contributed to this report. 

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

SBN Disclosure: In November 2021, SBN’s parent company, The Lubetkin Media Companies, produced a livestream of a town hall meeting about offshore wind power for Orsted, one of the developers of the planned Ocean Wind One project.