Offshore windpower is an important source of renewable energy that is becoming a more viable option as technology continues to improve. Wind turbines are now being installed in deeper waters, but researchers know little about the impact this industry will have on the marine environment. A new paper by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researcher Helen Bailey and colleagues examines the potential impacts of wind farms on marine life, and provides recommendations for future monitoring.
“As the number and size of offshore wind developments increases, there is a growing need to consider the consequences and cumulative impacts of these activities on marine species,” Bailey said in a news release. “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.”
The issues arise during construction. Pile driving is a loud process that could cause hearing damage, disrupt communication, and disorient marine mammals and fish if they relocate to avoid the noise. Construction also brings in additional ships, which increases marine mammals’ risks of ship strikes.
On the bright side, previous studies have shown that wind farms may act as artificial reefs, increasing food supplies. Marine life may also benefit once construction is completed because shipping routes will be altered to avoid the wind farm and fishing restrictions will likely be put in place, which may result in the accidental creation of marine protected areas.
Few studies have measured in the impact of construction on marine life, and none have assessed the long-term impacts of offshore wind farms. The researchers recommend collecting targeted data and using models to examine how offshore wind farms will impact local environments.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the most significant impact of offshore wind farms on marine mammals is the avoidance of construction noise,” said Bailey. “There needs to be a greater focus on assessing the longer-term impact of any behavioral responses.”
To learn more:
- Read the full news release: New study calls for continuing need to assess impacts of offshore wind farms on marine species.
- Read the study abstract: Assessing environmental impacts of offshore wind farms: lessons learned and recommendations for the future.
Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.