Environmental & Regulatory Assessment
Ocean energy extraction has gained increasing attention as a viable component of the energy mix of the future. While utility-scale wave and current energy installations do not yet exist, technologies are continuously being developed to take advantage of a vast and renewable ocean energy resource that has the potential to provide the ancillary benefits of cutting carbon emissions and improving energy security. The UNC Coastal Studies Institute is interested in the potential impacts of marine hydrokinetic devices on offshore ecosystems and characterizing the use of the waters that these devices will be located in. UNC CSI research in this area has focused on holistically understanding the Gulf Stream ecosystem, which is relatively understudied but highly valued ecologically. Research has focused on the protected elements of the ecosystem as well as the food web that supports protected species and habitats and includes the following:
- Sea turtles: This program is a collaboration between NOAA and CSI researchers to tag sea turtles in the Gulf Stream to identify the presence and use of these waters by these endangered and threatened organisms.
- Marine mammals: This research has focused on identifying and assessing the use of Gulf Stream waters by vocalizing marine mammals using bioacoustics monitoring.
- Human dimensions: UNC CSI researchers have been engaging users of the Gulf Stream to evaluate their use of these waters and their attitudes towards Gulf Stream energy development. This information is valuable for understanding user groups, how they use the resource and how we may mitigate any future conflicts.
Sargassum Seaweed Research
Sargassum is a brown macroalgae that serves as habitat for many marine organisms, including endemic invertebrates, commercially important juvenile fish, and juvenile sea turtles, and is also important to the nutrient cycling of the pelagic ocean.
Researchers at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute are making observations of Sargassum communities in the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina and conducting experiments to determine how increased turbulence influences the productivity and nutrient cycling of Sargassum.