On Maryland’s Wind Energy: Letter to the OC Dispatch
from Capt. Monty Hawkins, 7
Some in the Town of Ocean City believe wind towers 12 miles and more offshore will be an eyesore.
Personally, I do not. I think most summer days we’d be challenged to even see the closest ones 12 miles out. Unlike crisp, clear days of fall, in summer I often cannot see OC’s skyline on the way back in from fishing until 7 to 10 miles or so offshore. I rarely see OC 16 miles out in summer. Weather is the determining factor.
When I do see OC’s highrises, I do not consider them ugly, even though the skyline of Assateague Island is so vastly different in its natural preservation.
Unlike supposed effects on tourism of a sometimes visible ocean windfield; acidification is no guess. If willing to sacrifice our ocean because the view changes somewhat, I fear this policy short-sighted in the extreme. We must move as far as possible from today’s fossil fuel dependency as swiftly as possible. With great success it would be too bad for the Middle East and their allies.
Is MD’s windfield enough? Certainly not. But we must begin.
Marine Fisheries Scientists’ greatest fear about increased CO2 is not warming & sea level rise; it’s ocean acidification. NOAA says the ocean absorbs about 25% of carbon we release. Others believe it to be closer to 50%.. (Land owners in seaside resort communities ought well be more concerned with sea level rise!)
The world’s leading experts think acidification might become so extreme as to prevent calcifying/forming shell. They believe this is already happening in the earliest life stages of oysters off Oregon/Washington.
(A Google search will show MANY articles on this..)
Of all the shellfish we can think of, however; and all are affected by rising PH, especially in the earliest life stages; there are innumerably many more ‘shellfish’ at the plankton level including the ocean’s #1 food source, krill. Clams, scallops, conch; all corals too are affected. Shells make the ocean, as we know it, come alive.
Indeed, an article in National Fisherman (leading US Commercial Fishing publication) even has acidification affecting salmons’ ability to home to spawning streams.
PH balance, though never pondered until it had to be, is vital to ocean health.
Acidification primarily comes from air pollution. Pictures of Chinese citizens wearing (not nearly enough) breathing protection are at the far end, but we’ve made plenty of same here.
(What do you see when the smog lifts over Los Angeles? UCLA..)
The ocean collects acidified air pollution from everywhere.
Automobiles certainly, but big power generation is the main producer of marine acidification.
We have a gift, an unrecognized gift as yet, in ocean energy. Were we to learn to capture wave energy and turn it into electricity, we could reduce our need for fossil fuels tremendously. Same might be said of currents. The Gulf Stream is the most powerful current on earth. It’s just a few miles offshore in some places along the south Atlantic.
We must learn to make energy that does not increase CO2. Regardless how imperfect, we must use what is known today and begin..
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Coastal Program began holding meeting after meeting about marine wind power construction in 2009. Those meetings continued until 2013. Everyone who made a living at sea off MD’s coast was asked for input. Commercial trawl fishers, trappers, gillnetters, conch potters, & recreational fishers too – we all told MD DNR where we did not want wind towers.
Assateague Island National Seashore and a multitude of other agencies/NGOs/local governments made comment also. The result was a map of lease areas eventually offered for auction to the highest bidder.
I believe it was an outstanding example of good governance. Those tasked with finding suitable locations for wind towers made a sincere effort to hear ALL concerns.
For my part, I tried to ensure towers were not placed too near our remaining natural corals.
Wind energy surveys raised my blood pressure through the roof from 2012 into 2015. Their ‘sub-bottom profiler’ equipment scared sea bass & flounder from every bit of reef within 3 or 4 miles of the MD WEA – an area of approximately 500 square miles was evacuated by fish. I had a video made in January 2016 with Go-Pro footage we’d shot on the last day of August 2015 & compared it to video of the exact same bottoms from 2004. The difference in sea bass population was amazing: swarms of fish vs NONE. Government said: ‘Oh No, that equipment is as quiet as a ship’s propeller.’ And I don’t doubt that. But is scared the fish away — big time.
There was positively no response from anyone. Surveys continued until finished. The region has since recolonized with reef fish & fishing is again as good as other areas.
During wind tower construction I anticipate further disruption of our fishing.
But after this final disruption the result will be multi-legged wind towers with boulder armored bases creating, I Believe, The Greatest Boon To MD’s Coastal Recreational Fishing Ever.
Partyboats like mine will be less likely to benefit. But private boats & charters, fishing only from one side or the stern, will enjoy immensely.
Indeed, sightseeing tours of the windfarm will become far more important along our waterfront, let alone boats servicing wind infrastructure.
Sakes.. Anyone who can avoid hitting a buoy with a boat, and navigate an inlet using radar, will have no navigational issues with large stationary towers 12 and more miles off the coast. How often do we see reports of boats hitting lighthouses?
We live in an age when illogical conclusion & downright fabrication are commonplace as tools to sway public opinion; a time when any convenient verbiage is used to sway perception no matter how distant from truth. Although our duty as citizens is to research before forming opinion, the fact is we cannot look deeply at everything.
Recently an argument was made before Ocean City Town Council by a trawl net manufacturing representative, (and quoting scientific work that surely exists but I’ve been unable to find) she held “Sand Bottom Is The Most Productive Bottom In The Mid-Atlantic”.. That building Artificial Reef is the worst thing we could do to our marine environment and claimed: “So what will happen if these (wind) structures are put in is it will REDUCE productivity.“
She held that, in our area, sand bottom is more biologically productive than reef &, in these parts, the seafloor had “always, ALWAYS, been sand bottom” implying we have no reef at all save artificial; and that my life’s work showing vast areas of natural reef, such as the 4.5 miles of sea whip meadow at the Bass Grounds lost by the mid-1970s to the surf clamming boom, is simple fabrication.
How curiously uninformed for someone whose industry is so utterly dependent on ocean health – Or, in way of making Niccolo Machiavelli blush with pride, perhaps simply framing a few tidbits of science to suit her anti-wind power argument.
I’ve fished partyboats from OC 38 years. I’m confident wind towers will be the greatest improvement to our fisheries ever. I’m also hopeful of US Wind’s talk of helping with other reef constructions on an annual basis.
Every artificial reef we’ve ever built has become an oasis for spawning fish & all manner of growth, including corals. More & more people are fishing these reefs we build with funding from our small non-profit, the Ocean City Reef Foundation. Our modest reef constructions add to this region’s marine fisheries production ..except those subsequently covered by shifting sands.
They provide nothing except a learning experience in reef construction.
No offshore reef fishers target “sand” for sea bass, tautog, summer flounder, triggerfish, spadefish, blueline tile, blackbellied rosefish, or lobster.
In fact, when MD DNR did a volunteer angler survey examining success at artificial vs natural reefs — No Participant, Not One, Could Be Persuaded To ‘Sample’ Sand Bottom. They would only record fishing on artificial or natural reef. They would not waste precious fishing time on sand because it was an absolute waste of time.
So we need more sand, do we?
Reef is less than 1% of our area’s total seafloor. One would hope sand produces something.. The remaining economically important ‘sand’ fisheries are quahoging, scalloping, & surf clamming. The entirety of these fisheries is conducted further offshore than our windfield.
Trawl for summer flounder might be a consideration, but I’ve never seen a trawler work in now-licensed areas. Indeed, OC’s trawl fishers, some with over 50 years experience, signed off on the present windfield chart.
If a thousand acre wood burns to smoldering stumps, can we expect hunting controls to restore that lost habitat’s squirrel population?
It really is that simple.
Instead of relying on “Catch Restriction” to restore our region’s fisheries to historical heights, we must instead discover what reefs were lost and restore them. Restoration’s as simple as rolling rocks from a barge.
Indeed, even estuarine hardbottoms factor hugely in distant marine fisheries restorations. Take billfishing, for example. The reason we can no longer catch marlin on nearshore shoals once world famous is because of the oyster’s demise.
Not just our marine reef ecology, but our estuarine hardbottoms must also be restored that we might again have blue waters inshore. A man can catch sailfish off Florida right where his great-grandfather did. Owing the Gulf Stream jetting away off Hatteras, however, we in the Mid-Atlantic fish in a huge ocean eddy — an eddy trapping excess nutrients from Chesapeake & DE Bays. These nutrients allow algae to flourish. Owing only algae; the Mid-Atlantic ocean has become more green/less blue with each passing decade.
Recent successes using rock as an oyster reef substrate (and NOT shell!) lead me to believe we absolutely know all we need know to turn the ocean blue again. It’s only money & time before the repair to oyster hardbottoms in Chesapeake & DE Bays is complete.
Horse feathers such as ‘we need more sand bottom’ are something I hope our local leaders will consider in depth before applying to their anti-wind power thinking.
The only way to combat ocean acidification is to reduce CO2 outputs. Whether wind, solar, wave, current, nuclear, or of other methods, & some surely undreamed of yet; if we continue on course with fossil fuels it won’t matter.
Where today we are on the brink of re-enlivening estuarine oyster populations using rock substrates, we might again see blue waters as they witnessed three generations ago — might again see billfish just 5 miles off the beach — Acidification continued means we’ll have no chance at oyster reef restoration. They’ll not be able to form shells at their earliest life stages.
Corals too – kaput.
Shrimp? Yup. Them too.
Scallops? Uh hu..
On and on.
Will Maryland’s Marine Wind Energy component resolve threat of ocean acidification? Heck No.
But it’s a start.
Wind towers are a whole lot less ugly than a dead sea.
President Ocean City Reef Foundation
Chairman MD Artificial Reef Committee
The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Our Maryland or Our Maryland Education Fund.