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Ecological Study Finds Marine Life Thriving Around Offshore Wind Farms

11/14/2013 3:13:23 PM | by Yogesh Mankani

Environmental, Conservation & Ecological Organizations

Nothing in life, certainly no method of energy generation, is without its down side. Offshore wind farms are no exception, although they have fewer drawbacks than most technologies.

They generate power without being carbon-hungry, and their visual and environmental impact does not affect the peace of the countryside. There isn't a huge amount to worry about, compared to other dirtier or more intrusive technologies.

Nonetheless, there have been concerns about the effects of offshore windmill arrays on marine ecology and sea life. Although the concerns are genuine, there is a need for solid research to establish whether or not they are well founded. It is easy for energy myths and legitimate energy saving tips to be confused and to gain currency in the gossipy world of the internet.

Research on Robin Rigg

The results of the research carried out to date are encouraging. One study was undertaken by a consultancy firm, Natural Power, on behalf of EON, the energy giant, and it focused on the Robin Rigg wind farm in the Solway Firth, in Scottish waters.

Observations and samples were taken during three main phases, the base-line, before any work was done; the wind farm construction phase; and the first year of its operation. Impacts were measured on fish, marine mammals, sea birds and 'bathic' communities during each phase. Bathic communities are groups of bottom-dwelling animals, like sea slugs and limpets.

At the same time, samples were taken in a nearby area, outside the presumed area of the wind farm's influence, to check whether any observed changes might be caused by other factors.

 

Effects on Birds

In relation to birdlife, it appears that both cormorants and gulls were actually quite keen on the wind farm. Their numbers increased substantially, cormorants by an estimated 50%. The effect on other sea birds has typically been some reduction during the construction phase, with recovery taking place in the first year of operation. The exception was the gannet, whose numbers did decline substantially, but the consultants state that more data is needed before more can be determined about the real impact on that species.

 

Fish

For most fish, it seems that a short term displacement was followed by recovery, and it is unlikely that stocks of the commercially valuable flatfish present in the Solway Firth will be substantially affected by the farm. In fact, as fishing is banned within the area for safety reasons, and bathic communities appear unaffected, there is reason to think that some fish species will be very happy to live with wind farms.

Some types of fish are sensitive to electricity. As expected, they have been found to avoid the area where an electric cable lies on the seabed. Their incidence in the Solway Firth is low though, and they have tended to migrate to the other side of the estuary, with numbers overall apparently not much affected.

 

Marine mammals

As to the marine mammals studied, the grey seal and harbor porpoise numbers have so far been unaffected.

Longer term studies are needed to inform us more fully about possible impacts. For instance, the farms may have an impact on migration routes for birds. There is also potential for continual low level vibrations to affect the life cycle of large marine animals in the long term.

It may be early days; however, the results so far allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the impact of offshore wind farms. This gave way to good numbers of overall animal life returning to the area, some of which actually seem to thrive in that environment. This research seems to have gone a long way to quell certain environmental concerns.

 

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