Research and Monitoring Initiative (RMI)

VISION STATEMENT

The Research and Monitoring Initiative addresses the need for regional research and monitoring of marine and coastal resources during offshore wind development, construction, operation and decommissioning as recommended in the New Jersey Offshore Wind Strategic Plan. Initial funding is provided by developers through New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Solicitation 2.

This Initiative is a rigorous scientific approach to uphold the State’s mandate to protect and responsibly manage New Jersey’s coastal and marine resources while supporting the State’s Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, Executive Order 8 and Executive Order 92, and the Energy Master Plan, which respond to climate change and protect our environment for future generations.

The Research and Monitoring Initiative (RMI) is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection in collaboration with our partners at the Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

The Initiative seeks to employ a rigorous scientific approach to research and monitoring of marine and coastal resources during the development, construction, operation and decommissioning of offshore wind as recommended in the New Jersey Offshore Wind Strategic Plan.

The goal of the Research and Monitoring Initiative is ensure that as New Jersey moves towards a clean energy economy, we also adhere to our mandate to protect and responsibly manage New Jersey’s coastal & marine resources.

PRINCIPLES

Be transparent in decision-making, with Initiative implementation and funding conducted through continued and open communication with interested and affected parties.

Balance New Jersey’s environmental goals of furthering New Jersey’s renewable energy targets while effectively managing and promoting New Jersey’s natural resources consistent with NJ Department of Environmental Protection and fulfilling NJ Board of Public Utilities statutory mandates and priorities, including:

  • Reduce and respond to climate change.
  • Manage and promote thriving natural & historic resources.
  • Protect New Jersey’s water.
  • Promote the development of clean, renewable sources of energy.
  • Ensure safe, adequate, and proper utility services at reasonable rates for customers in New Jersey.
  • Lower energy costs, reduce demand for electricity, emit fewer pollutants into the air and create jobs.

Further the scientific understanding of existing coastal and marine natural resources, including but not limited to the physical and chemical environment, wildlife, fisheries, and any changes, whether beneficial or detrimental, to those resources resulting from offshore wind development, construction, operations and decommissioning.

Produce credible, scientifically rigorous data, analysis, and reporting that can be used for identifying, understanding, avoiding, minimizing, and/or mitigating impacts from offshore wind on marine resources, as well as evaluating efficacy of mitigation efforts.

Be adaptive throughout the Initiative to reflect that different or expanded research and monitoring needs may arise to accommodate both unforeseen circumstances and new scientific information as future offshore wind projects are developed.

Objectives

Establish an adaptable framework for future offshore wind research and monitoring efforts, including goals, objectives, protocols, criteria for prioritization of projects, roles and responsibilities, and timeframes.

Consult, partner with, and maintain effective communication with existing regional offshore wind and wildlife/fisheries groups to identify research priorities and timeline for products.

Maintain communication and coordination between conservation organizations and state and federal agencies.

Contribute to the greater regional research effort by ensuring that existing and ongoing research is leveraged such that research tasks are not duplicative, data gaps are addressed, and the long-term monitoring needs are met.

Select projects that reflect New Jersey’s highest research priorities.

Conduct rigorous, hypothesis-based, and scientifically defensible monitoring and research with results that are reproducible and statistically robust.

Identify and inform actions for adaptive management to avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate impacts, including cumulative impacts, from offshore wind on coastal and marine resources, including habitat, biota, and recreational and commercial fisheries.

Identify future offshore wind research needs related to coastal and marine resources as they relate to the Initiative; and

Make products readily available to stakeholders and the public in a user-friendly accessible format.

The RMI research agenda will be executed in phases. Because of the importance of characterizing existing environmental and ecological conditions, the RMI is currently focused on gathering pre-construction data. This first phase of the RMI will begin in the Spring of 2022 and last approximately two years.

Phased Research AgendaPhased Research Agenda

The RMI Team identified a list of research and monitoring priorities for New Jersey based on our current understanding of resources of concern, data gaps, and information needs, which was informed by an extensive literature review, interactions with analogous groups throughout the mid-Atlantic, and engagement with relevant stakeholders. Our understanding is expected to evolve with the continued expansion and coordination of regional research efforts. Read more about the RMI project development process here .

RMI Process photoRMI Process photo

To identify resources of concern, DEP evaluated data from:

To form the scientific questions that the RMI projects will focus on, the DEP took a impact-oriented approach. DEP asked the following questions:

  1. Is there convincing evidence that any impact would be negligible?
    To answer this question, DEP:
    • Conducted Literature literature review
    • Solicited stakeholder input
    • Sought input from local subject matter experts
    If yes: Compile relevant information & make publicly available.
    If no, the next question is:
  2. Is the topic being pursued by other entities?
    If yes: DEP is Coordinate coordinating with that entity.
    If no, the next question is:
  3. Are the potential impacts to the resource limited to the development project site?
    If yes: research into those impacts should be included in developer’s project-specific research and monitoring plans
    If no, that topic is suitable for regional research RMI funding.

Below is a table of partners with whom the RMI Team coordinates.

Organization/Group
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Office of Renewable Energy Programs
Coastal States Organization
Interstate OSW Fisheries Call
Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO)
Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean (MACO)
Multi-state Offshore Wind Call
NJ Climate Change Alliance (NJCCA - Rutgers University)
NOAA Fisheries
New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA)
NYSERDA/NJDEP Research & Monitoring Coordination
Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind (RWSC)
Responsible Offshore Science Alliance (ROSA) 
Rutgers Center for Ocean Observing Leadership (RUCOOL)
US Environmental Protection Agency
US Fish & Wildlife Service

After identifying the Resources of Concern for New Jersey, coordinating with other state, regional, and federal partners to identify data gaps, and developing scientific questions to address those gaps, the RMI team develops a research project concept.

Two mechanisms for funding are available for RMI projects: 1) a competitive process with a traditional Request for Proposals (RFP) or 2) a direct contract with a state university or New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium member.

For the competitive process, a full RFP is developed by the RMI Team and submitted to the Steering Committee for review before posting.

For direct contracts with state universities and NJ Sea Grant members, a full proposal is developed and submitted to the DEP RMI team.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, once vetted and approved by the DEP RMI team, the RFP or full proposal is submitted to the RMI Steering Committee for a vote. The Steering Committee is comprised of three BPU and three DEP representatives. A majority vote of four is required for RFP/project approval.

The RMI expects initial projects to begin during the Spring/Summer 2022 field season. Currently, the focus of the RMI is to collect pre-construction data, to characterize the existing environment. Many of the timing details beyond that are undefined at this point.

Name Affiliation
Kati Angarone* Associate Commissioner, Science & Policy (DEP)
Megan Brunatti* Deputy Chief of Staff (DEP)
Nick Procopio* Acting Director, Division of Science & Research (DEP)
Jim Ferris* Deputy Director, Division of Clean Energy (BPU)
Kira Lawrence* Senior Scientist, Division of Clean Energy (BPU)
Kelly Mooij* Director, Division of Clean Energy (BPU)
Joe Cimino Administrator, Marine Fisheries Administration
John Heilferty Bureau Chief, Endangered & Non-game Species
Kevin Hassel Environmental Specialist, Office of Climate Resilience Planning
Joe Bilinski Research Scientist, Division of Science & Research
Colleen Brust Research Scientist, Marine Fisheries Administration
Reneé Reilly Research Scientist, Division of Science & Research

* Steering Committee Member

Short-term Highest Priority Research & Monitoring Needs*
Data Management 1 Data standardization, processing, analysis, housing, and QA/QC
Environmental Change 2 Examine impacts of OSW energy development on seafloor, light conditions, and ocean stratification (i.e., how could potential changes in circulation patterns due to OSW development affect geological and physical oceanographic properties, such as the mid-Atlantic Cold Pool?)
Benthos 3 Identify & evaluate valuable bottom habitats (e.g., sand ridges, surfclam beds, SAV in estuaries – use survey work in lease areas to identify habitat types) and organisms (summer flounder, skate, dogfish, horseshoe crab, sturgeon); model potential changes to these habitats and organisms
Birds 4 Develop baseline estimates of population-level distribution information (with focus on Red Knot, Piping Plover, and Roseate Tern) by expanding GPS, Motus, and satellite tag technology to characterize migratory movements – particularly flight altitudes – throughout the NY bight
Bats 5 Update known population data at the proposed development sites (i.e., how many bats will potentially be interacting within the known lease areas)
6 Use best available technologies (e.g., nanotags and Motus network) to determine the extent of bat migration/activity offshore in the NY Bight (especially for Hoary, Silver-haired, and Eastern red bats)
Fishes & Invertebrates 7 Examine effects of OSW on the distribution/connectivity of fish & invertebrate species and communities (e.g., acoustic tags for horseshoe crabs or species with obligate migration paths)
8 Examine the distribution and use of habitat by larvae and juveniles (fishes/crustaceans) in the New York Bight (e.g., nursery function and spawning grounds)
Sea Turtles 9 Collate existing data for sea turtle movement, distributions, and habitat use patterns; conduct beach surveys where possible (i.e., how do these animals use the space?)
Marine Mammals 10 Estimate habitat use, distribution, and abundance by season (e.g., overwintering harbor seals) for the right whale, other whales and dolphins through supporting PAM efforts in the NY Bight; identify environmental variables driving these patterns
11 Evaluate relative threat of mortality/injury to for the right whale, other whales and dolphins from vessel strikes (including increased vessel interactions due to creation of traffic corridors) associated with OSW and non-OSW activities
Fisheries 12 Adapt DEP trawl survey design to allow for comparison of biases/limitations in and outside of OSW development areas and calibrate new time series
13 Identify and implement methods to determine how dredge, purse-seine, and trawl fisheries will be affected by construction/during operation; model increased vessel interactions due to creation of traffic corridors
14 Develop and implement methods to assess impact of OSW on recreational fisheries (e.g., changes in access within the WEAs)

*These priorities are not listed in any ranked order.

December 2021 Environmental Resources Working Group Presentation

Observing Guidance

The RMI Steering Committee has approved funding to examine the potential use of offshore wind farm structures for remote environmental and ecological monitoring. As offshore wind develops across New Jersey’s outer continental shelf, infrastructure including turbines, foundations, and substations present a unique opportunity to establish long-term monitoring sites for collecting environmental and ecological data. A team of experts will engage relevant stakeholders to inform the development of recommendations for potential implementation at individual wind farms; as well as on a regional scale, to promote coordination of research and monitoring efforts. This work will be executed by experts from Rutgers University, Monmouth University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind.

RWSC

In recognition of the importance of regional coordination and collaboration, New Jersey has joined the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind (RWSC) whose charge is to support regional planning, coordination, and collaboration on research and monitoring of wildlife and marine ecosystems in support of environmentally responsible offshore wind power development along the US east coast. RWSC membership directly supports New Jersey’s mandate to balance Offshore Wind (OSW) develop with natural resources stewardship.

Surfclam

OSW infrastructure in the region is anticipated to impact commercial clam fishing within developed lease areas and affect the federal survey vessel’s ability to assess the health of clam populations. Given the importance of the surfclam industry to New Jersey, the RMI is funding the development and calibration of a novel clam dredge that can be employed within windfarms, which will enable the continuity of the survey and provide critical data for managing the population.

Gliders

Ocean characteristics off of New Jersey’s coastline undergo significant variations on timescales of weeks, months and years. These variations drive changes in ocean ecosystems impacting the distribution, productivity, and diversity of marine organisms, including highly migratory fisheries and marine mammals. The RMI is funding this glider (autonomous under vehicles that navigate the ocean) program to characterize baseline environmental conditions and how they might impact the distribution of marine organisms. These data should help facilitate future efforts to assess the potential impacts offshore wind development and climate change.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring

The RMI also anticipates releasing a request for proposals for a passive acoustic monitoring project to better understand the movements and behaviors of baleen whale species, including the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, in the waters along New Jersey’s coastline. This project will be part of larger effort which includes collaboration with nearby state, regional, and federal entities that seeks to protect marine mammals as offshore wind farms are developed along the eastern seaboard.

Socioeconomic Impacts of New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Development on the Recreational Fisheries Economy

On April 21, 2022, the New Jersey Research and Monitoring Initiative approved funding for Monitoring the Socioeconomic Impacts of New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Development on the Recreational Fisheries Economy, a proposal submitted by Dr. Pankaj Lal at Montclair University. Relatively little is known about the amount recreational anglers spend, what they spend money on, or how that spending could change in response to OSW development, but current estimates are that recreational fishing provides at least 15,000 jobs and adds $1.7 billion in sales, $0.7 billion in income, and $1.1 billion in value added to the State. This two year project will provide important pre-construction data needed to develop and implement methods to assess impact of OSW on recreational fisheries, a research priority identified through the RMI.

Acoustic Telemetry

The latest project approved by the RMI Steering Committee will conduct acoustic telemetry work to track fish movements. This project will complement an existing network of receivers to provide coverage in and around New Jersey wind energy areas (lease areas and export cable routes) and areas of biological significance (i.e., migration corridors). Acoustic telemetry has become an increasingly important tool to study migration patterns, habitat use and preferences, mortality, and general population monitoring of fish. Unlike traditional surveys, sampling is non-extractive and provides continuous monitoring of tagged animals over time.