Wind, Whales, and Dolphins – the conservation impacts of marine renewables
The 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals is taking place this week in Dunedin, New Zealand. This is the largest international conference focused on marine mammals and WDC is there to present our conservation work to the world.
“Many difficult and complex conservation issues highlighted at this conference. One issue which floats to the top as having increasing significance is the growing industry of marine renewable energy. Whilst the need to replace our dependence on fossil fuels is paramount, a new report from WDC (7.5mb) on this issue also helped to highlight the need for greater collaboration between those developing marine renewables and the need for further research to determine critical coastal habitat to avoid conflicts between marine renewable developments and marine wildlife, especially marine mammals.”– Philippa Brakes, Senior Biologist, WDC
PRESENTATION ABSTRACT: The marine renewables dilemma – Brakes, Philippa 1; Simmonds, Mark Peter 2 – (1) Whale and Dolphin Conservation (2) Humane Society International
Marine renewable energy installations are developing at great speed all around the world as part of efforts to tackle Climate Change. A variety of associated potential threats to marine mammals have been identified. Common concerns for all types of renewable devices include the noise made especially during construction, particularly where piledriving is involved. In addition, structures may be a source of chemical contaminants, including antifouling treatments. Construction and operational noise may lead to displacement and other behavioural changes. Intense noise might cause impairment of auditory senses; and/or masking and stress responses. Tidal-stream energy devices typically comprise turbines that are entirely submerged and moving at speed (commonly up to 12 m.s-1, or 43 kph) relative to the streaming water mass, presenting a collision risk. Wave energy converters also represent a collision risk; as does the increased vessel traffic associated with construction and maintenance work. Vessels may be of novel design in order to operate within the renewable arrays or hold themselves static without anchoring, and this may bring new risks.
These concerns have been well sketched but there is very little relevant information to inform this rapidly expanding multifaceted industry; most relevant studies have been done in Europe and mainly concern the harbour porpoise. Individual installations and arrays are all set to become far larger than the operations that are in place currently which presents challenges in terms of extrapolation of impacts based on current monitoring. The marine renewables industry is widely regarded as an important part of future energy security and, as such, it tends to have high level political support. However, this is an unprecedented incursion by industry into inshore and offshore habitats, including what balanced and more precautionary strategy is needed that attempts to reconcile energy needs, uncertainty, conservation and welfare.