The nation’s largest survey of protected marine species is now underway along the Atlantic Coast. Scientists have been assigned to a summer expedition to study marine mammals and sea birds under an interagency agreement with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and BOEMRE (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement), the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Chief of the Protected Species Branch of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Mike Simpkins explains how these studies will help in the decision-making process for future off coast developments. “When BOEMRE comes knocking on our door and says, ‘how may dolphins are there in this area, what kind of whales might there be in this area at various times of the year,’ we often don’t have a whole lot of that information, so these surveys are going to give us a lot of that information to help them make better and informed decisions about where and when to carry out their activities.”
The study will also help in the decision-making process for future energy development and lease sales along the Atlantic Coast. Simpkins explains the purpose is to better estimate the abundance of marine mammals in the Atlantic waters throughout the year. “This project is different than some others in that it’s designed to have surveys all throughout the year. Most of our information to date has all been from summer surveys, which doesn’t tell us a whole lot about where these animals are in the winter, or the fall or the spring. And we know a lot of these marine mammals and turtles and birds move great distances across the earth,” says Simpkins.
BOEMRE will provided $7.6 million for the study and scientists like Simpkins are very pleased with the opportunity afforded them by the multi-agency, multi-year project. “BOEMRE and the Navy, who are two of the big operators in this type of thing, are investing a lot of money in trying to get the right kind environmental information and trying to get the right kind of decisions.” He says, ” I find that really encouraging. Rather than just accepting that we don’t have a lot of information and just making their best guess as the way forward, they’re investing a lot of money. The Department of Energy has started to step up too and is putting a lot of money into this.”
In addition to the surveys currently underway, AMAPPS research has included harbor seal tagging and a loggerhead turtle-tagging.