Linking Habitat and Benthic Invertebrate Species Distributions in Areas of Potential Renewable Energy Development Public Deposited


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  • While the coastal waters of western North America hold great promise for wind and wave energy development, many concerns have been raised about the potential environmental impacts of the installation of these devices and their complex mooring systems. Here I focus on characterizing benthic habitats and biological communities in offshore sedimentary and reef habitats where wind and wave energy facilities could be located. While little is known about species-habitat relationships and community processes in the depths and substrate types targeted for offshore renewable energy installation, an understanding of the natural dynamics of these systems is of utmost importance if we hope to forecast changes that might be brought about by wind and wave development. Since May 2010 we have conducted surveys of benthic habitats from northern California to Washington using a variety of techniques, providing baseline data on habitats and species potentially affected by wind and wave development, identifying species-habitat relationships, and quantifying spatial and temporal trends in species abundances and distributions. The first step in identifying and evaluating benthic communities is sonar mapping to determine depth and substrate types. In summer 2010 and 2011 six new offshore sites were mapped by the Seafloor Mapping and Plate Tectonics Lab at OSU using high-resolution multi-beam sonar and acoustic backscatter. In addition to the backscatter, Shipek grabs were taken in soft-bottom areas to collect sediment samples, which were run through a laser particle size analyzer (LDPSA) to determine actual grain size. Mapping began at the federal jurisdiction line and extended 9 – 12 miles offshore. Oregon and California have undertaken extensive mapping of state waters, so many areas have been mapped inshore of these sites as well. In summer 2011 and 2012, we visited 8 sites (6 newly mapped sites, one previously mapped, and one unmapped site) to collect a total of 153 cores using a 0.1 m2 box-corer. A sub-sample of sediment was collected from the corer and analyzed using the LDPSA; the rest was sieved through 1 mm mesh and all infaunal organisms were counted and identified. At each box core sampling station, CTD casts were conducted to obtain physical data describing the overlying water column for further habitat characterization. Unique infaunal invertebrate assemblages were found in sedimentary habitats at each of the Pacific Northwest shelf sites. Thus for renewable energy siting, it does not appear that baseline surveys conducted at one site can necessarily serve as a proxy for distant sites. However, some general trends were detected. Significantly different invertebrate assemblages were found in different depth ranges with a break at approximately 80 to 90 m depth; deeper sites exhibited greater diversity. Shallower sites had greater spatial heterogeneity in infaunal invertebrate assemblages than deeper sites; thus as monitoring protocols are developed we recommend that shallower sites be sampled more extensively in order to adequately characterize those communities. Molluscs seemed to be the most responsive to substrate type, with different assemblages found in pure sand, slightly muddy sand, and mostly silt/clay. In addition to sampling of sedimentary habitat, we conducted limited surveys of offshore reef habitats. Although it is unlikely that devices would be installed in these areas, reefs may be crossed by electrical cables, and changes in sediment transport due to ocean energy extraction or alterations of flow around large device arrays could lead to community impacts. The aim of this study was to describe baseline relationships between macroinvertebrate communities and habitat features against which to measure potential future impacts and to develop tools to predict community compositions of unsampled areas in the region based on substrate features. To date we have analyzed submersible dive video from three sites conducted in the mid-1990s. In the summers of 2011 and 2012, we visited these previously surveyed sites with an ROV. Analysis of submersible and ROV surveys indicated that two major substratum groups held different macroinvertebrate assemblages: moderate to high-relief rocky habitats and low-relief fine sediment habitats. The majority of macroinvertebrate taxa were associated with high-relief rocks; these taxa were further differentiated between flat and ridge rock habitats. Low-relief fine sediment habitat was most often associated with motile invertebrates. Within this habitat it appeared that fine-sediment substrata mixed with mud, boulders, or gravel each yield unique macro-invertebrate associations versus those found on uniformly mud or sand substrata. Latitude also was correlated with variation in macroinvertebrate assemblages. A major challenge will be detecting effects of wind and wave energy installations above the inherent natural variability in these systems. Decadal scale shifts in the California Current affect this ecosystem, with warm regimes and associated declines in planktonic production resulting in degradation of benthic community. On shorter timescales El Niño events can cause major, short-term disturbances. Off the Oregon coast, summer hypoxia events can have dramatic effects on benthic communities, and ocean acidification is an increasing concern. Thus, evaluation of this ecosystem must be made in the context of seasonal and climatic trends. Prior to installation of device arrays, baseline sampling is usually required as part of the permitting process. However, one-time sampling will not capture the variability of the system in a given area, and developers and regulators typically are not able to make the investment (in time or money) to repeatedly survey an area before development. Funding agencies rarely support long-term monitoring studies. Thus, finding support for repeated field sampling across time and space is especially challenging. The biggest issue facing wind and wave energy developers in the environmental arena is the high level of uncertainty regarding environmental effects. Without a substantial understanding of the natural dynamics of a system, it will be difficult to reduce that uncertainty.
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  • Henkel, S. K. & C. Goldfinger. 2012. Linking Habitat and Benthic Invertebrate Species Distributions in Areas of Potential Renewable Energy Development. In: Boehlert, G., C. Braby, A. S. Bull, M. E. Helix, S. Henkel, P. Klarin, and D. Schroeder, eds. 2013. Oregon Marine Renewable Energy Environmental Science Conference Proceedings. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Cooperative Agreement with Oregon State University M12AC00012. OCS Report BOEM 2013-0113. 149 pp.
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