Effects of offshore wind farms on marine animals still unknown

The consequences and cumulative impacts of offshore wind developments on marine species need to be continually assessed. Species sensitive to sound such as dolphins could be especially negatively impacted by construction sound.

As offshore wind power installations increase in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, the environmental impact, particularly on marine species, must be continually assessed, conclude researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. This is particularly the case now that technological advances allow higher capacity turbines to be installed in deeper water.

In a recently published paper, the researchers review the potential impacts of offshore wind developments on marine species. Many are negative: The loud sounds emitted when driving the piles into the seafloor could cause hearing damage, mask communication or disorient animals and fish as they move out of the area to avoid the noise. Marine animals could also be injured by ships or disturbed by vessel movements during surveying and installation activities.

On the other hand, there are potentially positive impacts too: Wind turbines could act as artificial reefs, or even act as a de facto marine reserve thanks restrictions on boating and fishing near the wind turbines.

The researchers found that few studies have measured the response of marine species to offshore wind farm construction and operation, and none have yet to assess the longer terms impacts to the population of marine animals.

To overcome this shortcoming, Helen Bailey of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science is leading a study that will anchor underwater microphones to the ocean floor off the coast of Maryland to continuously record sounds produced by large whales and other marine mammals over the course of two years. The baseline data will then be used to inform the design of wind farms to minimise the impact of construction noise and environmental impacts and also facilitate ocean planning in the area.
Photo credit: Vestas Wind Systems A/S

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