Science Center Objects

Wind-generated electricity in the marine environment promises to be an important source of renewable energy, but poses a potential risk to seabirds that share the airspace with wind turbines. USGS research assists regulatory agencies such as BOEM and USFWS evaluate the potential for adverse effects of wind facilities and other offshore activities on seabirds. To this end, scientist study seabird occurrence and behavior to identify potential areas of high activity and possible conflict between offshore activities and seabird populations.

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Energy and Wildlife icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

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Offshore wind power icon

Evaluating Acoustic Sensitivity of Diving Birds to Offshore Energy Development Activities

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Diving birds may use auditory cues to aid in orientation, communication, and (or) foraging, but the ability of individuals to hear underwater has not been experimentally tested. Understanding hearing in diving birds is important to current regulatory and management priorities in evaluating the impact of noise pollution, such as offshore energy construction activities, naval sonar activities, and the effectiveness of acoustic deterrents to avoid by-catch of birds in gill nets. USGS scientists are measuring the in-air and underwater auditory thresholds of diving bird species by using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques to test whether diving bird species rely on auditory cues to orient or forage underwater. These studies represent an important development of procedures and equipment that can be used to expand the available data on diving birds; the data can then be applied to evaluate anthropogenic noise sources that may affect diving birds, including underwater offshore energy construction activities, offshore vessel traffic, bathymetric mapping, and sonar.
 

Offshore wind power icon

External GPS-GSM Transmitters for Tracking Seabirds

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists are testing solar-powered GPS-GSM transmitters on seabirds to capture fine-scale movement patterns and better relate the influence of weather, resource availability, and hazardous conditions on seabirds. These transmitters are providing data on flight altitude of seabirds, information that is relevant to assessing the risk of collision or displacement to seabirds by potential offshore wind turbines. This information can be used to model habitat use, mortality risk, and the impact of weather on flight behavior for these species regarding multiple proposed offshore wind facilities along the Atlantic coast.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

The Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or GoMMAPPS, is a multiagency partnership between the BOEM, USFWS, NOAA, NOPP, and USGS with the goal of conducting broad-scale surveys of protected species to inform managers on the distribution and abundance of marine animals across seasons and years. USGS is leading efforts to provide information to GoMMAPPS on abundance, distribution, and movement patterns of sea turtles and seabirds. Some of the largest gaps in knowledge of marine turtle and seabird ecology occur in areas of heavy oil and gas use, including BOEM’s GOM Central and Western Planning Areas. Information generated by USGS and its GoMMAPPS partners can be used in support of various BOEM/BSEE activities, including oil spill risk analysis, decommissioning of oil platforms, and movements of vessels.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Main Hawaiian Islands Breeding Seabird Atlas

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

The main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) and associated offshore areas provide substantial breeding habitat for more than 19 seabird species. BOEM and the State of Hawai‘i have received proposals to develop offshore renewable energy-related projects within waters surrounding the main islands. These projects have the potential to negatively affect seabirds through interactions with wind-turbine structures, lighted facilities, elevated power lines on land, and lighted ships offshore. BOEM and other Federal, State, and local resource managers overseeing offshore renewable energy development within the waters surrounding the MHI require comprehensive, quantitative data of seabird colony locations, extents, and breeding population sizes to inform siting, conservation, and restoration actions for affected species. USGS and partners are working on a comprehensive atlas of MHI seabird colonies that can be used to generate predictions of at-sea distributions among seabirds on the basis of colony size and location, central-place foraging theory, and new empirical data from at-sea ranging studies throughout the MHI.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Survey Data

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

The USGS produced the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database, an online resource compiling the results of 40 years of bird surveys from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia. The database documents the abundance and distribution of 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species over a 26-million-square-kilometer, or 10-million-square-mile, region of the North Pacific. This database is a powerful tool for analysis and mitigation of anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, including the impacts of oil development and production, fisheries, and vessel traffic. Use of this tool also provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the biogeography and marine ecology of dozens of species of seabirds and marine mammals throughout their range in Continental Shelf waters of the United States.

 

Wind power icon

Overland Migration of Marine Birds in a Wind Energy Corridor

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Pacific coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico contains a substantial wetland complex supporting large aggregations of nonbreeding waterbirds. Extensive wind energy development has occurred in the plains bordering these wetlands. This study examined movement patterns of three marine-associated bird species in the northern GOM. Data provide evidence that marine birds from the Gulf region overwinter along the Pacific coast of Mexico and use the isthmus as a migratory corridor. This research can help resource managers better understand the various risks that marine birds may encounter during migration.

 

Seabird collage

From left: Spotted sandpiper chick (Credit: Brette Soucie, USFWS). Crested auklet in the rain (Credit: R. Dugan, USFWS). Albatross flying over the ocean (Credit: USFWS). Endangered monk seal and Laysan Albatross (Credit: Dan Clark, USFWS). Great frigatebird protecting his young (Credit: Laura M. Beauregard, USFWS). (Public domain.)

 

Offshore wind and oil and gas extraction icons

Pacific Marine Bird and Mammal Research and Monitoring Programs

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS and partners have gathered information about marine bird and mammal research and monitoring programs into an online database to support environmental risk assessments for species and habitats sensitive to offshore energy activities in the southern California and Washington-Oregon Planning Areas and the Hawaiian OCS of BOEM. The database includes information from programs that assessed distribution, abundance, and biology of marine birds, such as seabirds, waterbirds, sea ducks, or shorebirds, and marine mammals, such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sea otters. Much of the information focuses on species protected under the Endangered Species or Marine Mammal Protection Acts. This database can be easily updated as new information becomes available.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Predictive Modeling of Marine Bird Spatial Distributions on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

California, Oregon, and Washington are engaged with BOEM to plan the siting of offshore energy projects within the territorial sea and OCS regions. USGS and collaborators are using historic, vessel-based, at-sea transect survey data coupled with oceanographic and environmental data to develop predictive models of marine bird distributions. These mapped data can be used to map hot and coldspot areas of relative bird occurrence and abundance throughout a large region of the California Current System, helping Pacific OCS States and BOEM prioritize areas for energy development.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Southern California Marine Bird and Mammal Surveys

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

The Southern California Bight and the Pacific OCS biome off the central coast of California support a diverse assemblage of marine birds and mammals. This area supports substantial global populations of several species, including black storm-petrel, brown pelican, Scripps’s murrelet, elegant tern, and approximately half of the world population of endemic ashy storm-petrels. USGS scientists are conducting aerial surveys and developing new techniques to provide updated status and distribution of seabirds and marine mammals in areas where renewable energy projects may be proposed and relate this updated information to past surveys.

 

Offshore wind and oil and gas extraction icons

Spatial and Foraging Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the South Atlantic Bight

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Brown pelicans are a species of concern in many States and can serve as an indicator species for marine, coastal, and estuarine ecosystem health because they interact with all three ecosystems and across a range of trophic systems. There is potential overlap between pelican use areas and proposed or existing BOEM activities around development of offshore wind, oil, or gas. Information about the fine-scale habitat use of brown pelicans in the marine environment is needed to determine the probability of pelican exposure to offshore energy development activities. USGS scientists are attaching GPS tags to pelicans in South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida to assess foraging ranges, movement patterns, and migration paths. This research also complements pelican tracking efforts being conducted in the GOM.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Spatial and Reproductive Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico 

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

GOM contains a high density of oil infrastructure and a rich assemblage of seabirds, yet baseline data on at-sea distribution and habitat use of these species are poorly understood. The brown pelican is a focal species for studies about risk exposure in the marine environment because of its distribution, behavior, and known sensitivity to chemical and oil contaminants. To assist USFWS, BOEM, State agencies, and the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network in developing management plans and future research and monitoring efforts, USGS is studying colony-specific movement patterns, habitat use at sea, and reproduction for brown pelicans. Movement data collected using GPS satellite tags on 85 adult pelicans breeding in the region can help resource managers assess the spatial ecology of the brown pelican.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Status of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Seabird densities in lower Cook Inlet are among the highest in Alaska, and populations were decimated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Large resident and migratory seabird populations are sustained by local stocks of key forage fish species. Monitoring of seabird populations and forage fish stocks in potential oil and gas lease areas is a BOEM priority, both to mitigate the impacts of development and to assess the impact of potential oil spills. In 2016, the USGS initiated new studies to update knowledge gained from seabird and forage fish studies in lower Cook Inlet from 1995 to 2000, in advance of potential lease sales and associated activities in Cook Inlet during 2017 and beyond. These studies are also assessing change in seabird and fish populations following anomalous high temperatures in 2014–16.