Understanding the impacts and benefits of offshore wind on fish in the Greater North Sea

Research projects

Project Description:

This Research Project is part of the Aura CDT’s understanding environmental impacts and consequences¬†Cluster.

Harvesting renewable energy from winds, currents, tides, and waves is a relatively new threat to marine ecosystems and there are significant concerns on its environmental impact and sustainability. Wind turbines and associated power cables can impact marine ecosystems during construction (e.g., pile driving) and operation, introduce artificial physical infrastructure to the ocean, alter the water currents, and emit electromagnetic fields, along with elevated vessel traffic. Using acoustic telemetry, we can gather pre-development baseline spatiotemporal animal movement data. In fact, Ingram et al. (2019) suggested that acoustic telemetry should be a prerequisite to evaluate the impact of an offshore wind energy development to mitigate its potential negative impacts on the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus.

Once constructed, human-made infrastructures can also provide physical habitat for fish aggregation, influencing local biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Reubens et al. (2013, 2014) used acoustic telemetry and stomach content analysis to identify a seasonal preference to wind farms related to feeding but also shelter from currents and predators in a commercially important fish in the North Sea. More recently, acoustic telemetry studies have revealed significant impacts of seismic surveys, shipping, and wind farm noise on fish behavioural patterns and potential effects on population survival and fisheries productivity (e.g., van der Knaap et al., 2021, 2022). However, we still do not fully understand the magnitude of the current impact of offshore wind construction and operation and the best way to implement effective solutions based on scientific data.

Windfarms also have the potential to provide direct and indirect environmental benefits, including providing protection and refuge areas for certain species and life stages of fish, especially where commercial fishing is prohibited inside the windfarm. There is also increasing awareness on the requirement for offshore wind to incorporate projects promoting nature, such as oyster recovery, fish refuges and artificial reefs, to maximise the benefits of construction. Furthermore, in the North Sea 2016-2021 Policy Memorandum, a decision was made to open offshore wind farms for shared use, including marine aquaculture (including seafood and seaweed), other forms of renewable energy generation and storage (including solar or tidal energy) and passive fishing (including crab traps and lobster creels). All of which will influence the prevailing fish communities relative to before construction and areas outside the windfarm.

For an informal discussion, call +44 (0) 1482 463331
or contact auracdt@hull.ac.uk