offshore wind farms

Offshore wind farms can enhance local biodiversity, says a new Dutch study. The base of the turbines and surrounding rocks provide habitat for animals that dwell on the sea floor, like mussels and crabs, according to the researchers. The wind farm they studied seems to attract numerous fish species, too, and even porpoises. Strategic placement of the wind farm seems to keep it from interfering with birds’ flight patterns. Researchers observed few birds flying through the turbines or dying from collisions. Location and sea depth play a crucial role in minimizing a wind farm’s effects, say the researchers.

A wind farm can provide “an oasis of calm” in a coastal area bustling with human activities like shipping, says Professor Han Lindeboom of the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies (IMARES), one of the research partners. The study took place at Offshore Windfarm Egmond aan Zee (OWEZ) on the Dutch North Sea coast, the Netherlands’ first offshore wind farm. The research focused on short-term ecological impacts of the turbines, studying the wind farm’s effects over a two-year period. NoordzeeWind, a joint venture between Nuon and Shell Wind Energy, funded the study. A consortium made up of IMARES, Koninklijk NIOZ (the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research), and Bureau Waardenburg  (an independent environmental consulting firm) conducted the research. Results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters.

Despite the study’s positive findings, installing offshore wind turbines generates undersea noise that can disorient or damage the eardrums of cetaceans like whales and porpoises. The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and Greenpeace advocate using a bubble curtain–a pipeline surrounding the installation spot that sends bubbles up from the sea floor to soften noises–around construction sites. More importantly, construction should wait if cetaceans are present, Greenpeace says. Any large-scale form of energy generation will probably have effects on the environment, but the effects of offshore wind farms seem relatively minor and perhaps sustainable in the long-term, the research suggests. However, further studies by independent researchers–without funding from corporations with a stake in wind energy–will help to verify these findings.

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