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Confronting Climate Change

Taking the ocean into account is critical for successfully addressing climate change, and addressing climate change is critical for the future of the ocean

Responsible Offshore Wind

Responsibly developed offshore wind can help protect the ocean, marine species and coastal communities.

Offshore wind is an essential component of our clean energy future. Yet all forms of human interaction in the ocean have an impact on our ocean ecosystems. Ocean Conservancy supports the pursuit of offshore wind that is developed responsibly–avoiding, minimizing and mitigating negative impacts to our ecosystems, marine wildlife populations and other ocean users.

Protect our ocean from its single biggest threat: climate change.

Why do we need offshore wind?

Since the Industrial Revolution, the ocean has absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat caused by the greenhouse gasses released from burning fossil fuels. This is changing our ocean’s very composition, putting immense pressure on our ecosystems, marine species and coastal communities.

Examples can be found throughout the ocean. Warming waters caused by climate change are shifting key small prey, such as zooplankton, poleward, putting stress on species at the top of the food chain, particularly baleen whales. Whales are now often sighted outside their usual regions, migrating much further to find ideal habitats, and shifting their foraging patterns into busy shipping lanes and fishing grounds, which puts them at greater risk of being struck by vessels, becoming entangled in fishing gear and being exposed to noise pollution.

The risk climate change poses to marine life is far greater than the risk of offshore wind. We need to advance offshore wind responsibly, making sure that proven measures to protect the ocean are in place. We also need to continue developing new and better ways to mitigate risks and make sure all marine wildlife is safe from other ocean uses.

Anna-Marie Laura

Anna-Marie Laura

Senior Director, Climate Policy

Additionally, coastal communities are seeing extreme coastal flooding and erosion due to sea level rise, while other areas of the ocean are becoming more acidic, causing shellfish shells to dissolve.

To slow this rate of change and protect our ocean, marine species and coastal communities, there’s no clearer path forward than to stop the use of harmful fossil fuels and move towards clean renewable energy sources.

Wind farm with ocean view

Fortunately, America’s coastlines offer abundant wind for clean energy generation. Offshore wind is an effective and reliable energy source, as winds blow much stronger and more consistently over the ocean than over land. Additionally offshore wind is an ideal option to keep energy sources local for the 40 percent of the U.S. population that lives near the coast. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, domestic offshore wind could generate more than 23,000 terawatt-hours of power, far more than the U.S. annual consumption of 4,050 terawatt-hours.

Ocean Conservancy strongly supports responsible offshore wind that is developed using smart long-term planning and proven measures that avoid, minimize or mitigate risk to wildlife, ecosystems and communities.

Much of the planned offshore wind in U.S. waters falls in areas where schooling fish, marine mammals and turtles forage and migrate. This means that offshore wind development and operation could impact our ecosystems, marine life and other ocean users whether from vessel traffic, surveying, construction or structures in the ocean. As America’s offshore wind industry grows, we must incorporate smart planning from the outset, monitor development closely, and adaptively manage to account for new scientific findings and observed effects to our ocean resources.

With the benefits of offshore wind being so crucial in our efforts to combat climate change and protect the ocean, offshore wind should move forward as responsibly as possible, using proven measures to reduce impacts on our ecosystems and marine species.

Offshore wind ocean view

Ocean Conservancy is actively engaged in the offshore wind development and regulation process to ensure we maintain a healthy ocean ecosystem, protect our marine species and avoid conflict with other ocean uses as offshore wind is developed. Through research, advocacy and collaboration with policy makers, government agencies, industry and other stakeholders, we are working to ensure our ocean has a voice in the discussion on where and how offshore wind is implemented.

Ocean Conservancy defines responsible offshore wind as projects and processes where developers and regulators:

  • Conserve marine biodiversity and ecosystem functions by avoiding, minimizing and mitigating environmental impacts; require long-term monitoring and, if needed, adaptive management of impacts (including cumulative) on marine and coastal ecosystems, wildlife and habitats.
  • Employ best management practices and proven measures or technologies to reduce impacts to wildlife and habitats, and where needed, support the development of new technologies and practices.
  • Commit to transparency and data sharing, making data publicly available in understandable formats, including data collected by developers before and during construction and during operations and decommissioning.
  • Include robust engagement with state and local governments, scientists, conservation groups, affected industries, communities and others from the outset of planning and throughout operation.  
  • Respect Tribal sovereignty and include meaningful engagement with Native American Tribal governments and Indigenous people and organizations, including free, prior and informed consent. 
  • Undertake comprehensive efforts with underserved and vulnerable communities to understand, avoid and mitigate impacts, and ensure financial, workforce or other benefits of development are equitably distributed. 
  • Consider other ocean users and uses, and avoid, minimize and mitigate conflicts with and impacts to them.
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