Effects of the Block Island Wind Farm on Pelagic Fish Abundance

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Mary Beth Decker
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The development of offshore wind farms raises questions about the potential ecological implications of the turbine platforms on marine environments. The Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF), completed in 2016, is the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The BIWF has five turbines located 6 kilometers off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. Previous studies examined the BIWF’s impacts to benthic communities, but the influence of the BIWF on pelagic fish has not been thoroughly examined. This study documents pelagic fish occurrences at three locations: two sites within the wind farm and one “control” site located 4 km northeast of the nearest turbine. GoPro cameras attached to three buoy suspension systems filmed simultaneously at each site to record fish occurrences on four dates during July and August, 2019. The cameras recorded 8-minute samples at the beginning of every hour from sunrise to sunset, resulting in 48 total samples per site. I then viewed the footage and counted the number of fish present in each sample, and compared fish counts among the three sites. The combined BIWF sites exhibited significantly more fish than the control site outside of the BIWF. However, the individual BIWF sites compared to the control site yielded both significantly more fish and no differences in fish abundance. These inconsistent results point to the need for further research on the influence of offshore wind farms on pelagic fish ecology, and on the potential for offshore wind structures to affect fisheries.