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Scientists call for more data on environmental risks of Morro Bay offshore wind project

Offshore wind turbines like these ones are planned for the waters off Morro Bay.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Offshore wind turbines like these ones are planned for the waters off Morro Bay.

Floating offshore wind turbines are planned for the waters off of Morro Bay, but a lot of details are up in the air. Local scientists are calling for more study of how offshore wind turbines will affect the marine environment.

At a May 11 California Coastal Commission meeting, Director of Cal Poly’s Center for Coastal Marine Sciences Ben Ruttenberg showed the kind of research needed to understand what is going on 4,000 feet down in the ocean. He said researchers need to monitor how the turbines will affect the marine mammals and fish there.

“We know the oceans are changing, right? The climate is changing, that's kind of why we're all here talking about offshore wind," Ruttenberg said. "And we know that some of these changes happen slowly. So they're going to require a lot of data for us to really understand what's happening.”

Other presentations addressed the effects on cold water nutrient upwelling, on marine birds, and how sound could affect marine life.

Brandon Southall is an oceanographer with UC Santa Cruz and Duke University. He’s studied the effects of sound on marine mammals and sea turtles, and said he's optimistic that risks to these species from offshore wind turbines can be managed.

"It's important that we recognize there are risks, [but] I believe they're manageable. They're manageable with data, and they're manageable with some of these strategic risk assessment approaches," Southall said. "It's important for us to not just be focused on the construction of these activities, especially out here where we have these really deep water areas. The survey phases are going to be pretty important for us to pay attention to, [and] the operation where we have a lot of different vessel activities is important.

Southall said. researchers don’t have a clear enough picture of what the deep-sea marine environment looks like where the turbines will go. He said there’s enough high-tech data collection tools to get that information before the project moves forward.

“We're measuring with tags, with acoustics, with aerial surveys, with physical oceanography, with satellite data [in] these areas before, during and after the development occurs," Southall said.

The California Energy Commission is required to submit their Strategic Plan on offshore wind energy developments to the state legislature and Natural Resources Agency by June 30.

The May 11 Coastal Commission meeting is online at

Christine Heinrichs writes about coastal issues from her home in Cambria, and has lived on the Central Coast since 1990. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and has written for many magazines throughout her career.
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