Environmental Org Sues To Halt Offshore Wind Development Over Potential Link To Whale Deaths

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Save Long Beach Island (Save LBI) is suing the National Marine Fisheries Services, also known as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, to stop their vessel survey sites that collect mapping data for future offshore wind projects, which may be linked to recent whale deaths.

Save LBI, a nonpartisan, grassroots ocean and marine conservation group, filed a lawsuit Wednesday calling for NOAA to reverse all Incidental Take Authorizations (ITAs) and for all vessel surveys to be stopped until an investigation into the potential links between offshore winds and recent whale strandings can be conducted. Since December 2022, over 20 whales have washed up along the New York and New Jersey shores near survey sites for future offshore wind projects as part of an unusual mortality event, according to NOAA.

Save LBI claimed the agency violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by not considering the impact of vessel noise on whales’ hearing when approving offshore wind survey sites that have led to whale strandings in New Jersey and New York. (RELATED: Exclusive: Federal Regulator Acknowledges Danger To Wildlife Caused By Offshore Wind Farms)

“The one and only materially changed variable off the New Jersey and New York coasts during that time is the characterization of the seabed being conducted by multiple survey vessels using high-intensity noise devices in preparation for wind turbine construction,” Bob Stern, president of Save LBI and former director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Compliance said in the lawsuit.

The MMPA was enacted to prevent marine mammal populations from declining and no longer having a functioning role in their ecosystem, according to NOAA. The law prohibits taking, the harassing, hunting or killing of marine mammals but grants ITAs that allow activities that may lead to minor harm to the mammals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lawsuit argues that the 11 ITAs approved by the agency, with five still pending along the New York and New Jersey shores, underestimated the range of elevated noise levels from the vessels, violating the law.

“That undersea work is generating high levels of underwater noise for very long distances,” Stern said in the suit. “At the same time, this activity is occurring directly in or near endangered whale migration corridors and it all must stop until it can be done safely,” he added.

A dead southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) lies on the shore of a beach near Puerto Madryn, Chubut Province, Argentina, on October 5, 2022. - At least 13 dead southern right whales appeared on the coast of the Golfo Nuevo and Península Valdez sanctuary, in northern Patagonia, in the past few days. The cause of their death is being investigated, the Whale Conservation Institute (ICB) reported.

A dead southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) lies on the shore of a beach near Puerto Madryn, Chubut Province, Argentina, on October 5, 2022 (Photo by LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images)

Save LBI issued a January report that revealed a potential link between the noise from wind turbines and whales’ hearing impairment, which may lead to their deaths.

They filed another lawsuit against the Department of the Interior (DOI) on behalf of citizens from New Jersey and New York last year against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), alleging that the agency did not take enough time to consider the impact of the project sites on the environment, according to Reuters. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed last month.

The Biden administration has pushed for offshore wind projects for its green energy goals, even as environmentalists sounded the alarm on the project’s potential danger to whales.

An NOAA spokesperson told the DCNF they could not comment on litigation matters.

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