NOAA Secures $82M for Whale Protection at Jersey Shore

Sara Irshad

JERSEY SHORE — In a significant move towards safeguarding marine life, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been allocated $82 million from the Inflation Reduction Act. This generous funding injection aims to enhance whale monitoring and boat strike surveillance along the pristine Jersey Shore.

Concerns Over Offshore Wind Development

This funding comes at a pivotal juncture. Just last week, Governor Phil Murphy, alongside Democratic governors from five other Northeastern states, urgently petitioned President Joe Biden. Their message: with further tax incentives for offshore wind companies, the entire offshore wind development initiative along the East Coast could be in good shape.

Escalating Costs and Challenges

In their letter to President Biden, these six Democratic governors voiced concerns over "significant new costs for ratepayers" if federal intervention does not occur. They stressed that the offshore wind deployment in the United States is at grave risk of stalling without federal support.

Critical Time for Offshore Wind

The stakes are high. Orsted, a Danish wind company with plans to construct turbines off Atlantic City, recently conveyed their readiness to abandon the project if not granted tax breaks by New Jersey. Despite commencing sonar mapping of the ocean floor, Orsted has deferred the final decision on turbine construction until early 2024.

Ambitious Goals

President Biden has set an ambitious target of generating 30 gigawatts of U.S. offshore wind power by 2030, aligning with Governor Murphy's vision to transition New Jersey entirely to clean energy by 2035.

Governors' Unified Plea

New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts governors collectively articulated their concerns in the September 13 letter to President Biden. They emphasized the unforeseen economic challenges brought about by inflation, geopolitical factors, and pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions.

Three Key Requests

In their appeal to the federal government, the Democratic governors made three distinct requests:

  1. They sought a revenue-sharing arrangement among the six states, ensuring that offshore wind profits remained within the region rather than returning to the U.S. Treasury.
  2. They urged for faster approval of offshore wind permitting.
  3. They called for measures to mitigate the escalating costs of offshore wind development.

Opposition and Environmental Impact

On the other side of the spectrum, Republican lawmakers have called for a halt to offshore wind development. They have also demanded a federal investigation into the rising number of whale deaths.

Exploring the Causes of Whale Deaths

Congressman Frank Pallone, representing Central Jersey, has been at the forefront of efforts to protect marine life. In 2023, he secured $17.2 million from NOAA for passive acoustic monitoring of whales and other marine creatures along the U.S. East Coast.

Climate Change and Whale Deaths

Pallone refutes that sonar mapping for turbines is linked to the surge in whale deaths off the Jersey Shore. Instead, he attributes this tragic phenomenon to climate change and vessels traveling at excessive speeds.

Protecting Marine Mammals

Pallone underscores the significance of addressing climate change: "Climate change is the biggest threat to marine mammals. A rising ocean temperature leads marine mammals' prey farther north and closer to shore, forcing whales to move to areas of significant shipping activity."

Federal Funding Allocations

The additional federal funding will be allocated as follows:

  • Vessel Strike Risk Reduction: $20.1 million to be invested in reducing the risk of vessel strikes, including $16.7 million for whale detection and avoidance technology development.
  • On-Demand Fishing Gear: $17.9 million to support on-demand fishing gear technology advancements.
  • Enforcement Efforts: $5 million will be invested in bolstering enforcement measures, including procuring new equipment such as Doppler units, radar plotting aids, marine monitor shore-based units, and operational contracts.

Congressman Pallone's Advocacy

Congressman Pallone initiated efforts earlier this year to secure federal funding for whale protection. He, along with other New Jersey Democratic congressional representatives, urged the Biden Administration to implement real solutions in response to marine mammal deaths along the state's coast.

An Encouraging Development

Congressman Pallone considers this allocation of funding as a significant milestone in safeguarding marine mammals. He emphasizes the significance of today's announcement, underscoring its impact on the ongoing efforts to protect these creatures.

Through this financial support, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inches closer to deploying innovative technology aimed at more accurately tracking whales.

The ultimate goal is to mitigate vessel strikes and entanglements, which have been identified as the primary causes of whale fatalities and injuries. In expressing his approval, Congressman Pallone acknowledges the positive implications of this funding in elevating marine mammal conservation.

In an environment where environmental preservation and economic interests intersect, the future of offshore wind development and marine life protection hangs in the balance.

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