Aerial imaging techniques for the world's largest offshore wildlife survey

Christian Newman1, Stuart Clough 2, Stephanie McGovern2, Julia Willmott3, Greg Lampman4
1APEM Inc, Florida, USA, 2APEM Ltd, Stockport, UK, 3Normandeau Inc, Bedford, NH, USA, 4NYSERDA, New York, USA


Aerial digital surveying techniques using aircraft flying at significantly higher and safer altitudes than observer-based aerial surveys have become a key tool in environmental impact assessment (EIA) of offshore windfarms. In preparation for offshore wind energy development, the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) has initiated the largest offshore high-resolution aerial survey of marine and bird life in U.S. history.


Normandeau Associates, Inc. and APEM Ltd (Normandeau-APEM team) are carrying out 3 years of baseline surveys (2016-2019) to assess the entire New York Offshore Planning Area (OPA) with emphasis on the Wind Energy Area (WEA). The surveys use ultra-high-resolution aerial digital imagery captured with the purpose-assembled camera system "Shearwater III" at 1.5 cm ground sampling distance (GSD) from a Piper Aztec twin engine aircraft flying at 1,360 ft. The nearshore area is surveyed along transects parallel to the shoreline and the offshore area is surveyed along transects perpendicular to the shoreline and consequently to the bathymetry, providing optimal orientation for expected clines in the distribution of target species. The WEA is surveyed using grid design, in which the area is covered equidistantly in all orientations.


The resulting georeferenced positive signals are used to assess the distribution and abundance by birds, marine mammals, turtles, and fish. The data collected in the surveys of the OPA and WEA are regularly uploaded to the internet domain ReMOTe (https://remote.normandeau.com/public_data.php). Normandeau and APEM analysts and taxon-specific experts log into ReMOTe to access the raw data, identify species, and interpret results. As data review progresses, survey results are publicly available on ReMOTe in near-real time.


This comprehensive baseline study using an innovative survey technique will facilitate a more efficient planning of energy production offshore New York by providing the necessary information to meet the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM's) regulatory requirements for environmental review of WEAs.


Delegates will learn about: the world's largest offshore digital aerial survey for marine wildlife; cutting-edge developments in the US offshore wind sector; technical aspects of ultra-high resolution digital aerial surveys.