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Virginia Coastal Program: 2007 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



College of William and Mary - Center for Conservation Biology

Project Title:

Developing a conceptual framework for evaluating the impacts of wind farms on migratory birds along the mid-Atlantic Coast

Project Description as Proposed:

The conversion of wind into electricity is rapidly becoming an accepted strategy to reduce dependence on non-renewable sources of energy in a world with rising energy demands. In the United States, the growth of the wind power industry has focused on land-based installations within primarily rural areas such that production and demand are decoupled. Since a large portion of the population and associated energy demand is concentrated along coastlines, a more efficient strategy would be to build industrial-scale wind farms along the coast in closer proximity to demand. The wind profiles along both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of North America are favorable for wind production. However, the continental shelf along the Atlantic Coast and particularly within the mid-Atlantic is more suitable for the offshore placement of large wind facilities.

Placing industrial-scale wind facilities in near-shore areas of the mid-Atlantic may create significant hazards for migratory birds. Millions of birds annually move through the Atlantic Flyway within the rich, near-shore waters of this region during their migrations to and from breeding grounds in the North Atlantic. In addition, large numbers of birds spend the winter months in these waters. Since many of these species are of conservation concern and protected by international treaties, an assessment of potential impacts is warranted. Currently, very little information is available to assess the relative merits of facility placement.

The Center for Conservation Biology proposes to develop a conceptual framework designed to evaluate the potential impacts of industrial-scale wind facilities on migratory birds along the mid-Atlantic Coast. The framework would place potential impacts in a population framework and identify those populations that are of the greatest conservation concern and where hazards could have the greatest population-level impacts. The framework will identify the issues of greatest conservation concern and suggest information resources that will be needed to evaluate potential impacts as well as estimates of the cost of such data gathering.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Byran Watts, 757-221-2247;

Project Status:

Project Completed; 9/1/2009 - 3/31/2010

Final Product Received:

Wind and Waterbirds: Establishing Sustainable Mortality Limits Within the Atlantic Flyway (PDF)


Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

In recent years, offshore wind development has become one of the fastest growing energy sectors in the world and the focus of the clean energy movement in the United States. All coastal states north of South Carolina support wind development and have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards that include an estimated 54,000 megawatts of offshore energy by 2025. To meet these collective policies with current turbine technology would require the deployment of 10-20,000 turbines in waters with less than 30-m depth over the next 15 years. The Atlantic Flyway supports one of the largest near shore movement corridors of birds in the world including many declining species of conservation concern. Much of the bird activity along the flyway occurs within a thin veneer along the coastline. Buildout of the wind industry along the Atlantic Coast will result in the largest network of overwater hazards ever constructed, adding another layer of mortality to many populations that are contending with a list of human-induced sources of mortality. From a population perspective, the central question is not how many individuals are killed annually but if the focal population is able to sustain the mortality incurred and still reach management objectives. This report uses a form of harvest theory referred to as Potential Biological Removal (PBR) to develop a population framework for estimating sustainable limits on human-induced mortality. The approach is appropriately precautionary in using minimum population estimates and a graded recovery factor designed to allow for species recovery. The approach has the benefit of requiring relatively few demographic parameters.  Enough information was available from the literature for 46 nongame waterbird species to allow for estimates of sustainable mortality limits (from all human-caused sources). Several populations stood out as having particularly low mortality limits including the Atlantic breeding populations of roseate tern, piping plover, and American oystercatcher, the Hudson Bay population of marbled godwit that winters along the south Atlantic, the rufa form of the red knot that uses the Atlantic Coast as a staging area during migration, and the estimated population of common loons wintering along the Atlantic Coast. Several other species for which demographic estimates are not currently available are also likely vulnerable to elevated mortality.



Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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