Effects of Offshore Wind Farms on Marine Life

Offshore wind power is an important renewable energy source that is invaluable in reducing carbon emissions. Breakthrough technologies have enabled the installation of high capacity turbines in deeper waters. However, there is still so much about its effect on the environment that is not known. Helen Bailey, researcher at the University Of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and lead author of the study, together with her colleagues, examined the possible impacts of offshore wind advances on marine species. The researchers also offered recommendations for assessment and monitoring in the future considering the growing global interest in offshore wind energy.

Helen Bailey said that as the size and number of offshore wind farms grow, it is necessary to deal with the cumulative impact and consequences of these developments on marine life. “It is essential to identify where whales, dolphins and other species occur to help avoid adverse impacts and to continue to monitor their response to the construction and operation of wind turbines.” Bailey added.

The thundering sounds of pile driving could potentially bring about hearing damage, disorient fish and mammals or obscure communication as they abandon the area to escape the noise. There is also the possibility of injury and disturbance on marine animals from ships and vessels involved with surveying and installation works. However, wind turbines could also serve as artificial reefs and build up food sources. It could also possibly lead to the creation of an actual marine reserve because of the fishing and boating constraints in the area that surrounds wind turbines.

There are hardly any studies that assess the reaction of marine species to the construction and operation of offshore wind farms, and not one has determined the impacts on the long term of such activities on marine animals. The research team proposed critically focused modeling and data collection to clarify issues about the effect on marine species. This is to help the concerned government regulators in their decision making, especially in nations where offshore wind energy implementation is in its early phase, such as in the US.

An example of such projects will start off the coast of Maryland this fall where underwater transmitters or microphones will be moored on the ocean floor to continually document sounds made by large whales and other marine mammals. The study headed by Dr. Bailey will gather two years of baseline data to serve as source of information on how to simplify ocean planning and wind farm designing, and minimize environmental impact and effect of construction noise.

Bailey said “it is becoming increasingly clear that the most significant impact of offshore wind farms on marine mammals is the avoidance of construction noise.” She further added that there is a need to have more focus in determining the longer-term effect of any behavioral feedbacks.

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