An important element in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) environmental stewardship has been the nearly four decades of successful scientific collaboration between BOEM and NOAA. These collaborative efforts encompass all Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) planning areas and include, for example, the environmental monitoring at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. These and other collaborations cover all technical disciplines from marine mammals to physical oceanography, to the joint development of environmental documents in support of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). BOEM worked closely with NOAA to jointly plan, design, and complete environmental studies on the Alaska OCS for the purpose of providing information to support BOEM offshore decisions and environmental stewardship. Some of these efforts include state-of-the-art research in both the Arctic (e.g., Bowhead Whales, Bearded Seals, etc.,) and subarctic (e.g., North Pacific Right Whales in the Southeastern Bering Sea) areas. The work is conducted through interagency agreements with scientists from both agencies working together to articulate research questions and to develop the appropriate protocols. BOEM and NOAA research collaborations also have led to significant advancements in marine mammal tagging technology, passive acoustic monitoring systems, understanding the effects of industry-produced sound, and increasing baseline knowledge that is ultimately crucial to monitoring for impacts (e.g., Bowhead Whale Aerial Survey Program and associated tagging and feeding studies in the Arctic, and distribution of the North Pacific right whales in the Bering Sea).
Most recently, on May 19, 2011 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between BOEM and NOAA to establish a formal and lasting agreement for coordination and collaboration between the agencies to ensure decision making for development on OCS energy resources is based on relevant scientific information and expertise from both agencies to fulfill the stewardship and conservation of living marine and ecosystems responsibilities that fall under the agencies’ respective authorities. This MOU specifies how BOEM and NOAA will cooperate and coordinate by:
- Defining specific processes to ensure effective and timely communication of agency priorities and upcoming activities;
- Identifying and undertaking critical environmental studies and analyses;
- Collaborating on scientific, environmental and technical issues related to the development and deployment of environmentally sound and sustainable offshore renewable energy technologies; and
- Increasing coordination and collaboration on decisions related to OCS activities, including with respect to research and scientific priorities.
This collaborative study monitored temporal and spatial trends in the distribution, relative abundance, habitat, and behaviors (especially feeding) of endangered whales in arctic waters. The study also recorded and mapped Beluga whale distribution and incidental sightings of other marine mammals and determined seasonal distribution of endangered whales in planning areas of interest to BOEM.
This study identified salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) use of lease area potentially affected by offshore development, including areas ‘down stream’ of the lease area that would be susceptible to potential oil spills.