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Ecological Analysis Used to Support New York State’s Offshore Spatial Plan

This project began in May 2010 and was completed in May 2012

We collaborated with the state of New York to collect and interpret ecological information needed to plan the location of wind farms and other ocean projects. The scope of our work included interpreting the results of existing ecological assessments; identifying data gaps; and mapping both the seafloor and the distribution of seabirds, deep-sea corals, sponges, sediments, and ocean habitats.

Why We Care
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is working to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to meet the state’s “45 by 15” objective. The initiative—created under Governor David Paterson—calls for the state to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs using renewable sources and conservation by 2015. Toward this end, the state is gathering critical marine data to place offshore wind farms in a way that protects critical habitats and minimizes conflict with fishing, transportation, and other interests. The “greening” effect of the clean energy produced by the wind farms is significant: the proposed 350-megawatt Long Island–New York City Offshore Wind Project will displace about 540,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to removing 120,000 cars from local roads.

What We Found
Collaborating with the New York State’s Ocean and Great Lakes Program, we found, assembled, and reviewed existing ecological data; identified data gaps; identified critical and/or vulnerable offshore habitats; and integrated human use data into spatial maps. These maps, technical assessments, and analyses provided New York with a clear understanding of how their planning decisions will impact the ecosystem and fishing/transportation lanes.

What We Did
Our study area extended from New York’s shores to the outer edge of the continental shelf and stretched into waters adjacent to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Our mapping work relied on existing datasets and focused on the distribution of seabirds, deep-sea corals, sponges, surficial sediments, bathymetry, and ocean habitats. We used a suite of environmental variables (e.g., depth, sea surface temperature, chlorophyll a, and distance from shore) in predictive models to create continuous high-resolution maps. Ultimately, we merged these models to identify biodiversity and abundance hotspots and to see where they overlapped with human uses.

Next Steps
New York will be developing offshore spatial plans in the New York Bight, Long Island Sound, and Great Lakes through 2017. We hope to continue providing New York with technical guidance and geospatial analyses as they move forward with coastal and marine spatial planning. We anticipate the need for more precise information on oceanographic processes, deepwater benthic habitats, and deep-sea coral communities---new data layers that could be merged with existing maps to clarify ecological links and critical habitats.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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