PSO course

This course is specifically aimed at personnel who will be acting as Protected Species Observers (PSOs) in offshore waters of the US Gulf of Mexico and US Atlantic. The PSO course introduces the regulations and mitigation protocols that apply and aims to equip PSOs with all the necessary knowledge to fulfill their role effectively. The course trains delegates in the requirements of the Seismic Survey Mitigation and Protected Species Observer Protocols and typical mitigation requirements for offshore wind energy developments. Carolyn Barton has been accepted to train PSOs by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) since 2003; the syllabus for the latest revision of the course has been developed in consultation with NOAA Fisheries, also known as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

PSO course registration

Who is the course for?

PSO course content

Browser requirements

PSO course registration

Course delivery:
Online, self-navigated

Accessible on:
Desktop PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. You will need a compatible browser (see below).


The course is self-navigated at your own pace - as a guide it is estimated that it would take 3 full days to complete the course, although you can break it down into shorter sessions over a longer period to suit yourself.

To register for the course please return the registration form to . Once registered you will be sent a Paypal invoice for the course fee. On payment of the fee you will receive a link to access the course (please allow up to 24 hours to receive the link). You will have access to the course for 12 months (this can be extended for a small annual fee; the course is regularly updated so continued enrollment will give you access to the latest information).

If you have any questions while doing the course support is available by email; if you would prefer to talk face-to-face a Zoom session can be set up. 

Who is the course for?

This course is for those who want to work as a PSO for the offshore industries in the US Gulf of Mexico and US Atlantic. Please note that PSOs working on explosive removal of offshore structures are trained directly by NMFS, and separate training is required for PSOs working on nearshore dredging. This course is for those working more generally on offshore geophysical surveys and construction of offshore wind energy developments.

There are no prerequisites for taking the course, but delegates should be aware that approval from NMFS is required for work as a PSO in addition to PSO training. To gain approval, in addition to training PSOs are expected to have successfully attained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a major in one of the natural sciences, a minimum of 30 semester hours or equivalent in the biological sciences, and at least one undergraduate course in math or statistics. The educational requirements may be waived if the PSO has acquired the relevant skills through alternate experience, but this is at the discretion of NMFS. Acoustic PSOs also need PAM training in addition to PSO training. Further information on the approval process can be viewed here.

The course is presented in English, so delegates should have sufficient understanding of the English language to study the course and complete the assessment.

Please note that to work as an PSO offshore you will need appropriate offshore survival and medical fitness certificates.

PSO course content

The PSO course syllabus includes the following elements:

Introduction - the role of the PSO and regulation and oversight in the US.

Marine mammals and sea turtles - an introduction to their biology and threats to populations.

Sound in the seas - sources of sound, its characteristics, measurement and propagation and the potential effects of noise on marine fauna.

Legislation - the Marine Mammal Protection Act (and Incidental Take Authorizations), Endangered Species Act (and Biological Opinions), National Environment Policy Act, Codes of Federal Regulations, additional measures for North Atlantic right whales, Rice’s whale protection and protection for sea turtles.

Activities requiring mitigation - an introduction to geophysical surveys, pile driving and the use of explosives.

Geophysical survey mitigation protocol - the requirements of Appendix A: Seismic Survey Mitigation and Protected Species Observer Protocols.

Vessel strike avoidance - the requirements of Appendix C: Vessel Strike Avoidance and Injured/Dead Aquatic Protected Species Reporting.

Explosive removal of structures - an overview of Appendix I: Explosive Removal of Structures Measures – introduction to the Platform Removal Observer Program (PROP).

Offshore wind energy developments - mitigation for construction of offshore wind energy developments (including pile driving, geophysical surveys and clearance of UXOs/MEC), based on example mitigation measures included in Incidental Take Authorizations.

Visual monitoring - methods and equipment, range estimation, recording marine mammal behavior, basics of navigation and assessing weather conditions.

An introduction to Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) - PAM deployment options, PAM hardware, PAMGuard software and range estimation.

Working as a PSO - the role of the PSO in monitoring, providing compliance advice, PSO briefings, data collection and reporting, including the importance of communication; the PSO approval process, other required certification, working through agencies, professional conduct and health and safety.

Life at sea - guidance for those who are new to offshore work, providing practical information regarding aspects of life at sea.

Identification - detailed species accounts for marine mammal and sea turtle species found in the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, with photographs.

Assessment - the above sections include revision questions with feedback, in preparation for the final assessment; the final assessment includes multiple choice and drag-and-drop questions – the pass mark is 80%, as set by NMFS.

Resources - downloadable resources that cover the content of the course, for you to download and keep.

Browser requirements

The course is online and can be viewed on a desktop PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. You will need a compatible browser; recommended browsers are the latest versions of the following:

Desktop and laptop computers:

Google Chrome (Windows/ Mac)
Mozilla Firefox (Windows/ Mac)
Microsoft Edge (Windows)
Apple Safari (Mac)

Mobile phones and tablets:

Google Chrome (Android)
Mozilla Firefox (Android)
Apple Safari (iOS) 


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