Offshore wind farms are becoming a major part of the European-wide drive to end reliance on fossil fuels and increase the amount of energy coming from renewable sources. A report from Sweden has conducted the first major review of wind farm effects on marine life.

Offshore wind farms are becoming a major part of the European-wide drive to end reliance on fossil fuels and increase the amount of energy coming from renewable sources. A report from Sweden has conducted the first major review of wind farm effects on marine life.

The report, recently translated into English, was commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency in October 2012. It brings together the findings of a wide range of studies that assess the effects of all stages of a wind farms construction, operation and decommissioning on different aspects of the Swedish marine ecosystem.

The authors found that the installation phase of the two kinds of wind turbine - monopile and gravity based- had the greatest impact on marine life, through the creation of noise and the disturbance of sediment. Noise during the installation of monopile foundations leads to flight reactions of all fish for up to 1km from the construction site. Porpoises have been proven to suffer impaired hearing and behavioural disturbances from noise associated with pile driving. The report calls for the planners of wind farms to ensure that construction is halted during important life phases such as spawning for sensitive fish stocks.

A positive effect of turbines is the creation of new habitat. Gravity based turbines have large boulders around their base as erosion protection. It was found that these act as artificial reefs, increasing the numbers of fish, mussels, crabs and lobsters in the local area.

The report was based on many small scale studies, looking at single wind turbines or small wind farms. The authors have therefore highlighted the lack of knowledge of the cumulative effects of many turbines, and call for the thorough assessment of proposed areas for new farms to ensure protection for sensitive species and ecosystems.

The report comes at a time when the world’s largest wind turbine array is completed, off the coast of Great Britain, with many more planned across European seas.


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