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Empire Wind Offshore Wildlife Surveys Pass Halfway Point

Monthly surveys of offshore wildlife in the proposed Empire Wind offshore wind farm area off the coast of New York state have passed the half-way point.

The ultra-high resolution aerial surveys will provide baseline data for environmental impact assessments and are being carried out by APEM and Normandeau Inc. on behalf of developer Equinor.

Using APEM’s custom Shearwater III high-resolution digital camera system each of the 12 aircraft-based surveys will gather around 160,000 images. Each pixel in the images is equivalent to 1.5cm on the ocean surface, meaning that the camera system is the highest resolution in use for large-scale offshore wildlife surveys.

APEM and Normandeau’s image analysts and taxonomic experts have identified a wide variety of birds, sharks, sea turtles and marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Each one has its species identified and its location plotted. The height and direction of birds in flight is also being recorded.

The surveys will analyse around ten percent of the survey area using a grid-based flight pattern and will follow the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s aerial digital survey guidelines for collecting information about avian species.

The survey site is within the wider area that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) identified as having the potential for offshore wind, which the team from APEM and Normandeau continue to survey. Within this wider area, the team previously completed four surveys of a smaller zone in greater detail. This smaller zone is now the focus for Equinor’s proposed Empire Wind offshore wind farm.

Martin Goff, environmental manager for Empire Wind, said: “Digital aerial surveys have been successfully used in Europe for site characterisation, and as such we have continued using the best available technology here in the Empire Wind lease area and beyond, building on the extensive datasets already collected in the region commissioned by NYSERDA. The data and reports are publicly available for anyone to access.”