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Mapping and Biological Assessments in Potential Wind Energy Area of Offshore North Carolina

This project began in June 2013 and is Ongoing

We are conducting seafloor mapping and biological assessments in a potential site for wind energy development offshore southeast North Carolina. The maps and data will allow the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to inform wind energy developers of areas containing sensitive and essential hardbottom reef habitats important to living marine resources and ecosystem services.

Why We Care
A large portion of the U.S. Atlantic outer continental shelf that is suitable for wind energy development is located off the coast of North Carolina. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has identified three wind energy areas offshore North Carolina: Wilmington West and East, near Cape Fear, and Kitty Hawk.

Prior to developing wind energy facilities, BOEM and developers require environmental studies of the living marine resources to assess the potential risks to economies, access to public trust resources, and impacts to ecosystem services. The living marine resources in the Wilmington Energy Areas contain essential hardbottom reef fish habitats and shipwrecks that are important to commercial and recreational anglers and a thriving dive industry, yet are poorly understood.

What We Did
We are conducting surveys of the Wilmington East wind energy area in partnership with BOEM and University of North Carolina. Using sidescan, multibeam, and splitbeam sonars, we are:

  1. producing maps and imagery of the seafloor,
  2. delineating hardbottom habitats and shipwrecks that are in the area, and
  3. surveying fish biomass in the water column.

At selected stations over hardbottom habitats, we will characterize the fish and benthic communities as we describe the habitats themselves for fine scale maps.

What We Found
On our preliminary seafloor mapping surveys we found a mix of bottom types, inferred from sidescan and multibeam sonar images. Similar to other outer shelf regions offshore North Carolina, the seafloor is comprised of a mix of unconsolidated sediments (sand), low relief hardbottom colonized with algae and benthic invertebrates, and high-relief (1–2 m height) ledges. Using fish acoustic sonars, we also found regions of high fish biomass over low- and high-relief hardbottom seafloor types.

Next Steps
The seafloor maps and biological assessment data will be used by BOEM to constrain lease blocks to those that minimize impacts to hardbottom habitats and fish communities in the wind energy area.

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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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