Studies toward fulfillment of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act offshore of North Carolina: Stakeholder Uses and Essential Fish Habitat in Wind Energy Call Areas
Student Collaborators: Avery Paxton
Sponsor: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Location: NC Wind Energy Call Areas: Kitty Hawk, Wilmington-West, and Wilmington-West
The development of domestic, renewable energy is a clear priority for the Obama Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the State of North Carolina. A large proportion of the Atlantic OCS blocks deemed likely suitable for wind energy development is located offshore of North Carolina. Prior to making OCS blocks available for lease, BOEM must satisfy criteria of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, of which Section 1346 mandates the conduct of environmental and socioeconomic studies needed for the assessment and management of environmental impacts on the human, marine, and coastal environments that may be affected by development. This proposal addresses the geophysical and diver ground-truthing bottom habitat characterization research needed to identify and characterize bottom habitat types, including likely EFH, within the Wilmington-East North Carolina Call Area, providing: (1) GIS maps of bottom habitat types; (2) fish community composition and abundance on important natural hard-bottom habitat, artificial reefs, and shipwrecks; and (3) locations of any newly discovered marine archeological sites. In addition, this proposal addresses concerns of commercial and recreational fishermen and the dive industry by conducting stakeholders’ meetings for each North Carolina Call Area (Wilmington-West, Wilmington-East, and Kitty Hawk) providing: (1) site-specific GPS information on bottom habitat of high stakeholder use (and accordingly high value for fish); and (2) suggestions about locations for boat travel corridors through each Call Area connecting high-use sites that would minimize conflicts between current stakeholder uses and possible wind farm restrictions. For Wilmington East, all currently available bottom habitat information will be integrated with new information provided by stakeholders and the geophysical survey interpretations to produce a report including a GIS map indicating areas probably suitable for wind-energy development based on current knowledge. The UNC-CH, NOAA, and Geodynamics team will also: (1) examine the relationship between the structural complexity and the species-specific value of hard-bottom habitats; (2) determine how well alternative geophysical bottom survey instruments predict observed fish uses; and (2) examine how wave-driven sediment dynamics surrounding seabed habitat structures affect their habitat value for benthic resources and for fish. Our research findings will provide BOEM, NOAA, and prospective wind developers with critical information and insight that can identify lease areas within Wilmington-East that probably lack important conflicts with hard-bottom EFH and lease areas within all three Call Areas with minimal conflict with commercial and recreational fishing uses and with the dive community. Such new information can stimulate wise marine spatial planning and renewable energy development within the South Atlantic Continental Shelf.