There is far too little known about the effects of offshore wind farms on local ecosystems, warn ecologists.
There is far too little known about the effects of offshore wind farms on local ecosystems, warn ecologists. Offshore facilities in coastal waters are being considered in many countries as resistance to new wind farms in the countryside increases.
Andrew Gill, lecturer in aquatic ecology at Cranfield University, UK has reviewed the literature on renewable energy, and found that ecological concerns have been neglected. ’Less than one per cent of the articles considered the potential environmental risks of renewable energy exploitation, and none was specifically related to coastal ecology,’ said Gill.
Setting up or dismantling offshore power stations could cause disruption to the environment. But even during operation, when the facility converts wind or wave energy into electricity, Gill sees potential problems that have not been investigated, including acoustic and electromagnetic disturbance.
’The high voltage alternating and direct current cables that transmit power between devices and the mainland also have the potential to interact with aquatic animals that are sensitive to electromagnetic fields,’ he said. ’This affects mainly fish, particularly sharks and rays, and marine mammals that use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate.’
Stephen Hawkins, director of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, Plymouth, says both sides need to be explored. ’In addition to possible negative impacts, such as the subtle effect on the navigation systems and general physiology of fish and marine mammals, there may be some benefits of offshore wind farms,’ said Hawkins.
The British Ecological Society says that the important message of Gill’s review is that the current lack of knowledge means it is not known which effects, if any, could benefit or harm coastal ecosystems.
Hawkins agrees. ’Clearly there is much work to be done on objective evaluation of the pros and cons of renewable energy devices in coastal waters,’ he concluded. Michael Gross
A B Gill, J. Appl. Ecol42