Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Marine Affairs

First Advisor

David Bidwell


With the rise of offshore wind energy in the United States, there has been increasing concern about how offshore wind turbine installation and operation is affecting benthic and pelagic marine life (Bailey et al. 2010). Increased, localized ocean noise resulting from project-related activities, such as vessel traffic, surveying, and turbine installation, has the potential to disturb or injure nearby marine life. Increased vessel traffic heightens the probability of a vessel strike occurring, and noise produced during the turbine installation phase, in which pile-driving is used to hammer and secure turbines to the seafloor, is significantly loud and widespread. This noise can result in marine mammals experiencing behavioral disturbances, such as avoidance or displacement, or an auditory injury.

As awareness has risen about the adverse impacts of the noise to marine mammals occurring near offshore wind energy developments (OWED), in particular endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale (NARW), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have established voluntary agreements with offshore wind developers. In the existing agreements with Vineyard Wind and Deepwater Wind (since acquired by Ørsted), these offshore wind developers have agreed to put forth their best mitigation practices to decrease risk of harmful impacts on the NARW and other marine mammals. The measures laid out in the agreement go beyond what is required by the two existing laws protecting the NARW, which are the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (NOAA Fisheries “North Atlantic Right Whale”). There’s a special focus on the NARW due to the fact that it is one of the most vulnerable species of whale, with an estimated 336 individuals left in the population and far fewer reproductively active females remaining (North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium 2021 Annual Report Card, 2022). It is possible that the agreements between NGOs and offshore wind developers, with the most recent being with Vineyard Wind, will serve as a framework for future agreements pertaining to offshore wind projects along the East Coast of the U.S. However, before this can occur, an evaluation of these agreements must happen to determine how effective these agreements actually are in preventing adverse effects to NARWs.

This research addresses this gap in knowledge by utilizing expert elicitation in order to determine, based on expert opinions, what the perceived effectiveness of the mitigation measures laid out in the agreement with Vineyard Wind is at preventing behavioral disturbances, spatial displacement, and physical and auditory injuries to NARWs. Additionally, expert opinions on whether this agreement serves as an appropriate framework for future agreements were evaluated. Results of this study found that out of all the risks evaluated, experts expressed most concern around the probability of a NARW experiencing a behavioral disturbance from pile driving activity. Additionally, it was found that there is largely dissatisfaction with the private developer-NGO voluntary agreement model and that rather than creating future voluntary agreements, there’s a push by marine mammal scientists, environmental lawyers, and environmental consultants to incorporate the mitigation measures provided in the agreement into industry regulations so that all developers are required to abide by them.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.