An offshore wind farm and three environmental organizations have entered an agreement to protect right whales while developing green infrastructure.

South Fork Wind is a large wind farm currently being built offshore from Rhode Island and Long Island. When it’s finished, its 12 turbines are expected to produce approximately 130 MW, or enough to power 70,000 homes.

The construction, which is happening approximately 16 miles offshore, is turning a piece of ordinarily quiet ocean into a busy and most importantly noisy site for the next several years. Unfortunately, it’s also right in the migratory path of North Atlantic right whales, one of the rarest species of whale. A preferred target of commercial whalers, right whales were hunted nearly to extinction. They are protected today, but their preference for floating at the surface and following coastlines brings them into further risk – today, the two leading causes of death for right whales are ship strikes and fishing nets. There are fewer than 400 North Atlantic right whales alive today. They feed all spring, summer, and autumn off the northern coasts from New York to Newfoundland, and then go south in winter to calve off Georgia and Florida. That path, plainly, takes them into direct conflict with the South Fork offshore wind farm.

The finished offshore wind farm won’t be in the whales’ way, but the active construction may be an issue.

The agreement reached on Monday, between South Fork Wind’s developers, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Conservation Law Foundation, will help see that impact is minimal. The agreement will guide monitoring measures to watch for whale activity, to reduce severe construction noise and vessel traffic, and any effect on the whales’ migration route.

“We don’t need to choose between clean energy development and wildlife protection, and this agreement shows how we can do both,” said a statement from the NRDC.

Photo: Shutterstock