Stichting de Noordzee

North Sea wind farms: ecological risks and opportunities

08 februari 2019

The North Sea is changing. To combat climate change, the coming years will see a rapidly growing number of offshore wind turbines to reduce CO2  emissions and produce renewable energy. In Northwest Europe, wind is currently one of the most important sources of renewable energy. Because space on land is limited, more and more wind farms are being built in the North Sea. These huge infrastructure projects bring both risks and opportunities for the nature in the North Sea. Read the full report here.

The risks
What exactly are the risks involved? First of all, as well as losing part of their habitat, birds and bats can collide with turbines. Underwater life also experiences negative effects during the construction of offshore wind farms due to the noise produced by pile driving activities. While adequate measures are in place to mitigate some risks, others remain unresolved. Further research and innovations are needed to identify the risks of the largescale roll-out of offshore wind farms, and to keep these within acceptable limits.

The opportunities
In addition to the risks, offshore wind farm construction also offers opportunities, in particular for underwater life. Because activities that disturb the seabed are prohibited once a wind farm is completed, the seabed and its characteristic North Sea fauna are given space to develop. Certain species also settle on the hard substrate of the turbines. Furthermore, active ecosystem restoration around offshore wind farms can promote the recovery of for example oyster reefs, which previously occurred on a large scale in the North Sea. Research, innovative experiments and, most certainly, entrepreneurship are all required in order to make optimal use of these opportunities.

More knowledge is required
There are many questions that must still be answered in order to steer the large-scale development of offshore wind farms in the right direction. Some of these questions relate to the long-term impact of offshore wind farms, such as the effect on wind fields and sea currents. Other research questions are much more acute and relate to the protection of species that are already under pressure due to offshore wind or other causes. To achieve the ecologically responsible application of offshore wind and the subsequent spatial reorganisation of the North Sea, the North Sea Foundation issues the following five recommendations to the Dutch government and offshore wind sector:

1. Invest time and resources in gaining knowledge;

2. Limit the ecological risks of offshore wind;

3. Take advantage of the ecological opportunities of offshore wind;

4. Develop an integrated North Sea master plan;

5. Enable adaptive management and apply the precautionary principle.


 

Read the full report here.

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