Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Offshore wind farm promotes biodiversity [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

New European research has shown that a North Sea wind farm has little negative effect on the fauna around it. In fact, researchers found that the presence of the wind farm actually provided a new natural habitat for organisms living on the seabed.

Researchers in the Netherlan...
Offshore wind farm promotes biodiversity
New European research has shown that a North Sea wind farm has little negative effect on the fauna around it. In fact, researchers found that the presence of the wind farm actually provided a new natural habitat for organisms living on the seabed.

Researchers in the Netherlands from IMARES (Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies) at Wageningen UR (University and Research centre), the Bureau Waardenburg and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) analysed the short-term ecological effects of the wind farm that was built near Windpark Egmond aan Zee (OWEZ), the first large-scale offshore wind farm built off the Dutch North Sea coast. The farm has the total capacity to provide energy for up to 100,000 households.

Writing in the online journal Environmental Research Letters, the team summarise the first two years of research from the farm and explain how it contributed significantly to the biodiversity of the area, with their research turning up organisms such as mussels, anemones and crabs.

Normally when a wind farm is constructed, researchers expect disruptive effects as a result of the driving of piles into the seabed; this can create new hard substrates in the form of piles and protective rocks. Known effects also include the presence of rotating wind turbine blades, possible underwater noise and the absence of other human activities such as commercial fishing.

However, this North-Sea wind farm seems to have bucked the trend. Specifically, the researchers looked at the effects of the offshore wind farm on benthic organisms, fish, birds and marine mammals. The team found that new species become established, and communities of animals arise on the wind turbine piles and the rocks piled around the columns, leading to a local increase in biodiversity. They also found the fish fauna to be incredibly varied. Another interesting finding was that the wind farm seems to provide shelter to cod. Porpoises were also heard more often inside the wind farm than outside it.

Despite these positive findings, it does seem that the wind farm's appeal is not universal: various bird species, including the gannet, were observed to avoid it. Seagulls, on the other hand, didn't seem too put off by its presence, with no notable decline in their numbers detected. And cormorants were even found to have increased in numbers near the farm!

Thankfully, the number of birds that collided with the turbines appeared to be quite low, according to the team's observations and model calculations.

But can these results be used to state conclusively that wind farms promote biodiversity? By comparing their findings with previous results, the Dutch researchers warn that the impact of a wind farm depends on its location and on the depth of the surrounding sea. The location of the OWEZ wind farm is favourable due to the relatively low numbers of birds that fly through the area at this distance from the coast. The presence of various habitat types and the intensity with which the area is used by others also plays a big part in how well the wind farm integrates into the surroundings. It seems in this case, that amid the hustle and bustle of the busy Dutch coastline, the wind farm offers fauna a seemingly calm oasis.

The team conclude that special areas should be designated for wind farms, so as to best avoid disruption to birds, for example. This way wind farms can both generate cleaner energy and contribute to fostering biodiversity.
Source: IMARES at Wageningen UR (University and Research centre)

Related information

Countries

  • Netherlands
Record Number: 33703 / Last updated on: 2011-08-09
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC