The federal Northeast Fisheries Science Center and the University of Rhode Island announced a 5-year formal partnership agreement “to research how offshore wind energy development will affect marine ecosystems and the people who live near, or work on, the ocean.”

“Our science center and URI bring a deep bench of scientific expertise and experience in oceanography, marine life, fisheries, and coastal communities,” science center research director Jon Hare said in a statement released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The agency says the program with a “multidisciplinary approach will focus on understanding these complicated relationships on an ecosystem level. One early project on the agenda is to create an integrated ecosystem assessment for the Gulf of Maine, looking at the relationships between fishing, the environment, and offshore wind energy development.

The partnership will allow NOAA to call on URI for science, outreach, and education expertise and resources.

“It will allow NOAA to respond to pressing and shared marine resources issues tied to offshore wind energy development,” according to the agency. “NOAA and URI are considering efforts to ensure that vessel-based data captured on commercial fish species can be adapted to accommodate navigation in wind farms.”

Navigation and safety around southern New England wind turbine arrays is a continuing and contentious issue among the commercial fishing industry, NOAA and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“Integrating offshore wind energy responsibly and resourcefully into our already complex and increasingly crowded marine ecosystems and environments is a priority issue for URI leadership,” said Bethany Jenkins, URI’s interim vice president for research and academic development.

The partnership was made through a cooperative research and development agreement, which allows federal and non-federal partners to do collaborative research. Through these agreements, NOAA and non-federal partners share ideas, technical expertise, facilities, and other research materials.

The center’s wind energy team is primarily located in Narragansett, Rhode Island, near the URI Graduate School of Oceanography.

The URI Coastal Resources Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography, Rhode Island Sea Grant, and the Coastal Institute are providing key support for the university in the partnership. They will draw on expertise and collaboration from other URI entities, including the College of the Environment and Life Sciences and the Ocean Engineering Department/College of Engineering.

The university was instrumental in assisting Rhode Island state officials with the science and policy work to create the Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), which provided the siting and management of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first U.S. commercial offshore wind project when it became operational in 2016.