2017 Monitoring Report

FORCE’s fourth quarter (2017 annual) environmental effects monitoring (EEM) report is now available. The report contains operational summaries and preliminary analyses from third-party researchers, including work by University of Maine, the Sea Mammal Research Unit Consulting (Canada), Envirosphere Consultants, Acadia University, Luna Ocean Consulting, JASCO Applied Scientists, Ocean Sonics, Nexus Coastal Resource Management, and Geospectrum.

The 2017 monitoring program completed approximately:

  • 130 hours of hydro-acoustic fish surveys
  • 11 days of lobster surveys using 48 traps
  • 334 days of C-POD data collection bringing the total to more than 1,300 ‘C-POD days’
  • bi-weekly beach surveys
  • 16 seabird surveys
  • four marine noise surveys

Monitoring activities took place in relation to an operational in-stream tidal turbine for the first half of 2017; monitoring continued after the turbine’s retrieval in June. Monitoring is scheduled to continue into 2018. Year 1 reports on fish, marine mammals, and seabirds have undergone review by FORCE’s environmental monitoring advisory committee (EMAC) and are included as appendices to this report.

Initial fish data analysis completed by the University of Maine did not identify a significant effect of turbine deployment during 2016-2017, but more data is needed to strengthen this conclusion. Similarly, initial analysis by Sea Mammal Research Unit (Consulting) found no evidence that porpoise permanently avoided the site while a turbine was in operation, but there was a temporary decline during installation activities.

The EEM work supports FORCE’s ongoing mandate to collect and share data on with regulators, industry, the scientific community and the public to better understand if in-stream tidal energy can play a safe, viable role in Nova Scotia’s long-term energy mix.

Monitoring work continues to be a central focus of FORCE and research partners, with work overseen by Dr. Kira Krumhansl, environmental programs director for FORCE. Monitoring is scheduled to continue in 2018.

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PROGRAM DETAILS:

Fish monitoring: FORCE and the University of Maine are conducting a fish-monitoring program using a downward facing hydro-acoustic echosounder (the University of Maine has experience conducting similar monitoring programs for a tidal energy project in Cobscook Bay, Maine). The goal of this program is to describe and quantify fish distributional changes that reflect behavioural responses to the presence of a deployed turbine.

Three 24-hour surveys were complete pre-turbine deployment (May, August, and October 2016) and well as four 24-hour surveys during the operation of the Cape Sharp Tidal turbine (November 2016, January 2017, March 2017, and May 2017), which included additional efforts to ensure data collection at the Cape Sharp Tidal turbine. Additional fish surveys were completed after the removal of the Cape Sharp Tidal turbine in July, August, and November 2017.

Surveys identified peaks in fish abundance in November and January, with a smaller peak in May. The density of fish at turbine height was highly variable across tidal stage, time of year, and location within the FORCE site. Preliminary findings suggest no significant effect of the turbine on the density of fish in the mid-field of the turbine or on fish vertical distributions, but more data collection during turbine operation is needed. Hydroacoustic surveys will continue ~1-2 times per season in 2018.

In addition to the hydroacoustic surveys, FORCE has deployed five fish tag receivers from the Ocean Tracking Network throughout its test site. Five more receivers of a new design will be deployed at the site in 2018 in collaboration with Dr. Mike Stokesbury at Acadia University.

Lobster monitoring: FORCE’s Lobster EEMP consists of a lobster catchability study in collaboration with NEXUS Coastal Resource Management. The goal of this study is to measure whether the presence of a turbine affects the number of lobsters entering traps. Commercial lobster traps are used to compare catch volumes in different proximity to the turbine location.

The first lobster catchability study took place in October-November 2017. During the survey, 48 traps were successfully deployed, with a 98% recovery rate. Trap drift was minimal during the operation (~60 m on average), and a total of 351 lobsters were caught and released during the study. This amounted to an estimated total weight of 281.16 kg of lobster. Average daily catch rates ranged from 4.79-8.99 kg trap-1 (n= 7-8 traps per day for 6 days) across both study rings.

FORCE’s 2018 EEMP will include one additional lobster catchability study, to be completed during turbine operation.

Marine mammal monitoring: The goal of the marine mammal monitoring program is to detect changes in the distribution of marine mammals (predominately harbour porpoise at the FORCE site) in relation to operational in-stream turbines. In collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), marine mammal presence was monitored using 3 to 5 C-PODS deployed on a near-continuous basis in the mid-field of the turbine location pre- and post-turbine installation in 2016-2017. Five C-PODS were collecting data at the site through the end of the year.

In 2016 and 2017 porpoises were detected on 98.4% of days, with presence varying by time of year, current speed, tidal height, time of day, and the lunar cycle. Initial results provide no evidence of permanent avoidance in the mid-field of the turbine, but there was a temporary decline in detection rate post turbine installation (41-46%), likely due to vessel activity. Tidal height was a more important factor in driving variation in porpoise abundance, with a 12-fold greater impact on detection rate than the presence of the turbine.

In addition, FORCE has continued a beach walks and public observation program for marine mammals.

Seabird monitoring: The main objectives of the seabird monitoring program are to obtain site-specific species abundance and behaviour data, which can be used to establish whether the presence of a turbine causes displacement of surface-visible seabirds and marine mammals from habitual waters and to identify changes in behaviour. Fifteen shore-based surveys were completed by Envirosphere Consultants in 2017, including observations during and post-turbine operation, to be compare with pre-turbine data collected in 2016.

Initial results show seasonal peaks in water-associated birds in spring and fall, consistent with known migratory patterns of species of loons, cormorants, gulls, waterfoul, and alcids. There was also a late spring and early summer occupation of the site by locally breeding Black Guillemot and Common Eider. Seabird abundances were low during summer. Initial results suggest no significant effect of turbine operations on seabird abundance, but a formal statistical analysis of the data will be performed in 2018.

Marine noise monitoring: The goal of FORCE’s acoustic monitoring program is to measure both ambient (in the immediate surroundings) and noise generated by in-stream turbines for prediction of the potential effects of this noise on marine life. Acoustic monitoring is being accomplished using drifting hydrophone systems, deployed at the site in October 2016 and March 2017. Data analysis is ongoing in collaboration with JASCO, Ocean Sonics, and GeoSpectrum Technologies.

Initial results indicate that the main sources of noise in the study area included sediment movement associated with tidal flow and nearby vessel activity. Preliminary analyses indicated that drifting hydrophones were able to pick up sounds from the OpenHydro turbine in March 2017, demonstrating that drifting hydrophone systems are effective for measuring ambient and turbine-associated noise.

The 2018 marine noise monitoring program will include several more rounds of drifting data collection, timed to occur at varying points during the lunar cycle to more fully characterize the range of ambient sounds in the study area. Additional drifts will also be conducted while a turbine is in operation at the site, to gather data regarding turbine-associated noise.

FAST sensor platforms: Independent of EEM programs, FORCE is also conducting marine life effects research through its Fundy Advanced Sensor Technology (FAST) program that utilizes a series of subsea instrument platforms. While EEM addresses immediate, regulated monitoring objectives, FAST supports sensor innovation that may also yield important monitoring-related insights while advancing EEM capabilities for future regulated programs.

FAST-1 has been deployed and recovered with an acoustic zooplankton and fish profiler (to assess zooplankton and fish density and depth distribution); FAST-2 will soon be deployed with a dynamic mount with a Tritech Gemini imaging sonar; and FAST-3 has undergone multiple deployments with an acoustic zooplankton and fish profiler and an autonomous scientific echosounder.

Lessons Learned: Over the course of 2017, several lessons were learned through FORCE’s EEM Program from an operational perspective. Specifically, with increased experience in collecting data, FORCE and its contractors have gained a greater understanding of the need for: managing effective and safe simultaneous operations, proper calibration and marine operation methodologies, and development of highly-qualified personnel.

In keeping with the adaptive management approach for the project, scientific lessons learned have resulted in adaptations to programming where applicable. For instance, adjustments that have been or will be made to the lobster, fish, and mammal monitoring programs in response to consultant recommendations include:

  • Revisions to lobster survey design to improve efficiency of data collection;
  • The addition of an ‘over-the-turbine’ location transect as part of the fish monitoring surveys in the survey design; and
  • Shortened C-POD deployment times to reduce the risk of loss.

2018 Plan: FORCE will continue its marine mammal, fish, seabird, lobster, and acoustics monitoring programs into 2018 as committed to in the 2016 EEMP. Some modifications will be made in response to lessons learned during 2017 in keeping with the adaptive management approach. FORCE will continue to issue interim reports to summarize ongoing monitoring operations at the site. These interim reports, presented on a quarterly basis, support longer-term analysis led by academic and research partners as more data is collected through seasonal and annual cycles, and in the presence and absence of turbine operations.

Final reports prepared by EEMP contractors are published on FORCE’s website upon review by FORCE’s independent Environmental Monitoring Advisory Committee (EMAC) and regulators.