A Letter to the Editor
February 27, 2023
Editor’s note: The letter below, which was slightly edited, is from Green Oceans in response to a story ecoRI News published Feb. 20. ecoRI News stands by our story and the reporting contained therein. The opinions expressed in this letter are those of Green Oceans.
Last week ecoRI published an article about Green Oceans (GO). We believe the article contains several inaccuracies and misquotes members of Green Oceans, presenting their words in a manner that distorts the meaning and intention. This piece attempts to rectify some of the more obvious errors in a point-counterpoint format. We appreciate ecoRI’s willingness to publish our corrections. Our organization would like to create a safe, non-judgmental dialogue about the proposed wind farms. We don’t claim to have all of the answers, but we do want to raise questions and introduce relevant science that might broaden our understanding of the issues.
ecoRI article: Marine biologists do not support Bill Thompson’s statement that offshore wind facilities may threaten codfish stocks.
GO: Marine biologists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warn against the impact of offshore wind development on codfish stocks. In a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), NOAA writes, “Based on our Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s fisheries science expertise and supporting peer-reviewed publications, this project [South Fork Wind] has a high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.” BOEM ignored this warning and approved the project regardless (Dlouhy, 2022).
ecoRI: NOAA has not approved authorizations to “take” any marine mammals incidental to any offshore wind activities.
GO: NOAA has authorized offshore wind developers to “take” 122 marine mammals and to harass a total of 99,770. According to the MMPA, the term take means “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill … any marine mammal.” These numbers cover just the authorizations recently approved.
ecoRI: Marine biologists do not support the statement that offshore wind industry activities may kill whales.
GO: A NOAA scientist warned BOEM that offshore wind development will threaten the survival of the North Atlantic right whale population. Activities associated with construction and operation, particularly underwater sound, can threaten whale survival (for review, see Arcangeli, 2023). Anthropogenic sounds can mask a whale’s ability to communicate and socialize, will diminish their overall food supply and their ability to locate food sources, heighten stress, and decrease reproduction rates.
ecoRI: The article suggests that no marine scientist supports the idea that offshore wind industry high-resolution geophysical (HRG) surveys off the Eastern seaboard could harm marine mammals or may be related to the recent spate of whale deaths.
GO: In response to Ørsted’s request to “take” several marine mammals for their high-resolution geophysical surveys back in 2020, a coalition of environmental groups, led by the National Resources Defense Council, wrote NOAA, protesting the risk to the North Atlantic right whales (Jasny, 2020). The letter states, “North Atlantic Right Whales are particularly prone to vessel strike given their slow speeds, their occupation of waters near shipping lanes, and the extended time they spend near the water’s surface. Some types of anthropogenic noise have been shown to induce sub-surface positioning in North Atlantic right whales, increasing the risk of vessel strike at relatively moderate levels of exposure. It is possible that geophysical surveys could produce the same effects, and therefore be treated conservatively.”
ecoRI: Green Oceans provided the quote, “absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence,” in reference to the lack of direct links between whale deaths and offshore wind surveys. ecoRI misinterprets this quote as, “If you have looked and don’t find anything it does not mean there is nothing there.”
GO: A more accurate interpretation of the quote would be, “If you don’t look, you won’t find anything.” It matters where you look and how you look. On their Marine Mammal Stranding reports, NOAA only asks about gunshot wounds, vessel strikes, fishery interaction, ingestion (of gear), and the likelihood of “other” human interactions. They do not ask, “Proximity to survey vessels,” “Known survey activity in the past two weeks?” or any such information that might provide a correlation between the strandings and the wind surveys.
ecoRI: The article criticizes Green Oceans for implying that “NOAA was hiding the reasons for the unexplained 60% of whale deaths not attributed to human interaction.”
GO: Green Oceans did not accuse NOAA of “hiding” the causes behind the unknown deaths. Green Oceans censures NOAA for misleading the public by continuously stating that vessel strikes and gear entanglements cause a majority of whale deaths. They have not determined the cause of 60% of whale deaths, so no matter how high the incidence of known vessel strikes or gear entanglements, these particular interactions do not currently explain the majority of deaths.
ecoRI: The law firm Eubanks submitted comments on behalf of Green Oceans to the Revolution Wind’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). ecoRI implied the law firm inappropriately focused on whales.
GO: Eubanks Legal, a public interest law firm dedicated to upholding environmental protection laws, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, submitted a response to Revolution Wind’s Incidental Take Authorization Request to harm marine mammals and to BOEM’s Draft Strategy for North Atlantic Right Whales and Offshore Wind. Considering these two documents specifically concern marine mammals and whales, the firm’s comments focus on whales appropriately. The firm did not submit comments to Revolution Wind’s DEIS.
ecoRI: The article claims that marine biologists do not support Bill Thompson’s statement that offshore wind facilities may threaten biodiversity.
GO: Numerous studies from Europe published by marine biologists demonstrate that offshore wind farms increase the risk of biodiversity loss by introducing invasive filter feeders (Negro, 2022), decreasing plankton diversity (Wang, 2022), and driving marine mammals away from fertile habitats, putting their survival at risk (Huang, 2022).
ecoRI: Green Oceans consists of six members, four of whom own houses in Little Compton, one from Tiverton, and one with a Boston address.
GO: Green Oceans has six members on its board of directors with these details. The actual membership includes approximately 200 with an executive committee of 14 people. The organization’s members live throughout the New England region, from Westport, Mass., to Saunderstown, R.I.
ecoRI: “One expert who read the white paper called it “total horseshit” and “shoddy scholarship.”
GO: ecoRI did not disclose the name or the qualifications of their “expert,” yet named the president of Green Oceans, Lisa Knight, without mentioning that she holds a medical degree (M.D.) and a Ph.D. in neuroscience, both from Yale University.
ecoRI: Wind farm developments will not affect ocean currents and Green Oceans’ concern about the interaction between offshore wind complexes and ocean dynamics represents a devious distortion of the literature.
GO: BOEM’s own study acknowledges the planned wind farms will slow ocean currents, diminish wave height, and alter temperature stratification. These effects can “destabilize and fundamentally change shelf sea systems” (Dorell, 2022) and extend beyond the boundaries of the wind complex (Platis, 2018). Wind farms in general can affect local climate (Miller, 2018) and even alter vegetation (Diffendorfer, 2022).
ecoRI: Dwight McNeill accuses Green Oceans of using a special interest playbook, always requesting more time and more study.
GO: The development of 22 million acres (8%) of the Atlantic continental shelf is unprecedented. Even scientists from the United Kingdom warn against embarking on such a massive project on the continental shelf, a uniquely fertile marine ecosystem, without understanding the environmental consequences to a greater extent (Dorell, 2022). Our environmental laws emphasize the “precautionary principle.” A single whale’s death should have halted this development. We now have a total of 440 unusual whale deaths since 2016-17, when the offshore wind companies began their surveys along the Atlantic coast. Green Oceans argues, and will continue to argue, that we need to stop activity, investigate the correlation, and proceed with caution.
ecoRI: No evidence supports Bill Thompson’s statement that wind complexes will reduce plankton.
GO: Scientific evidence confirms that marine industrialization reduces plankton counts (Malerba, 2019). The Revolution Wind DEIS calculates the installation of the cable alone will kill over 8.5 billion zooplankton and 1 billion fish eggs. Recent studies from the North Sea demonstrate the presence of wind turbines decreases phytoplankton count by as much as 8% in some areas (Slavik, 2018), redistributes plankton, and deoxygenates lower-level water (Daewel, 2022). According to NASA, phytoplankton “thrive along coastlines and continental shelves” and “any change in their productivity could have a significant influence on biodiversity, fisheries and the human food supply, and the pace of global warming [emphasis added].”
ecoRI: Timmon Roberts accuses Green Oceans of casting aspersions without supporting evidence.
GO: The white paper includes 156 references. GO backs up each scientific claim with peer-reviewed scientific studies.
ecoRI: Timmon Roberts accuses Green Oceans of disrespect and of assuming, “we know better.”
GO: Drawing attention to evidence that contradicts a belief system can seem disrespectful by challenging a person’s self-identity. We mean no disrespect by alerting the public to misleading claims by the wind industry, exposing gaps in our current knowledge, and directing the public to recent scientific publications that reveal harmful environmental impacts of offshore wind developments. Green Oceans hopes those groups who want to intervene in the ocean at a colossal scale will have the humility to try to understand the environmental impact first, will not presume the climate crisis justifies destructive industrialization, and will assume the “precautionary principle” in the face of unusual whale deaths.
ecoRI: State Rep. Michelle McGaw stated that “Lisa [Knight] is under the impression that everyone is bought and sold.”
GO: Wind developers have donated millions of dollars to environmental groups, universities, and research organizations. SouthCoast Wind (aka Mayflower) alone has donated $115 million. Conflicts of interest arise when the recipients of these funds are called upon to sanction the wind developments and deny the environmental impacts, such as the Sierra Club, Woods Hole Institute, and the New England Aquarium. We would prefer to have organizations, scientists, and research institutions that have not received funds from the wind industry or their affiliates to opine on any potential negative consequences. At the very least, organizations and researchers should disclose funding that could potentially be viewed as a conflict of interest.
ecoRI: Rep. McGaw does not worry about the negative impacts of offshore wind developments because “We have good processes in place to review [the projects].”
GO: Considering the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has a mandate to fast-track offshore wind development, the process may not be as safe as McGaw assumes. BOEM’s history of ignoring and disregarding NOAA scientists should undermine McGaw’s confidence in the review process. Two separate incidents deserve highlighting. BOEM ignored NOAA’s significant concern about offshore wind development on both cod and the North Atlantic Right Whale.
ecoRI News has put its might behind the for-profit powerhouses on this issue. The offshore wind industry and large financial institutions anticipate monetary gain from these projects and have already invested heavily in their success. This is a David and Goliath fight. The industry would prefer for Green Oceans to remain silent. We thank ecoRI News for giving us a voice.
Lisa Quattrocki Knight, M.D., Ph.D.
The author is a member of Green Oceans.