In the rush to find new sources of energy and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, offshore wind farms are increasingly seen as an attractive solution, but their potential impact on marine biodiversity should not be overlooked.
Greening blue energy, written in collaboration with E.ON and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is the most comprehensive guide to date for assessing the impact of offshore wind energy installations on marine ecosystems and biodiversity. It gives governments, policy makers and industry the tools to enhance the environmental performance of offshore renewable energy.
“Moving away from oil, gas and coal is vital to avoid the worse impacts of climate change, in this context on marine ecosystems,” says Dan Wilhelmsson, Scientific Coordinator at IUCN's Global Marine Programme and first author of the report
. “At the same time, we need to make sure that what we call blue energy, which includes the offshore renewable sources, is also green and doesn’t exacerbate existing stresses on the marine environment.”
Offshore wind energy development in the European Union is accelerating and could potentially supply between 12 and 16 percent of the EU’s electricity by 2030, the equivalent of 25,000 wind turbines. Other countries and regions, such as the US, Japan, India and Eastern Africa are also exploring the possibility of adding offshore renewable energy to their energy mix.
Electricity produced from wind farms helps combat climate change by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollutants associated with fossil fuels. Offshore wind farms can also provide advantages for local wildlife through the establishment of 'no fishing zones' and the creation of artificial reefs where marine species can thrive.
But if not properly planned and managed, the installations can adversely affect marine biodiversity. The report highlights issues such as habitat loss for birds and sea creatures, potential collisions with wind turbines, deviation of the migratory routes of birds and whales, noise and electromagnetic disturbance and navigational hazards for ships.
The report reviewed over a thousand scientific sources to provide the most up-to-date knowledge on the possible impacts of offshore wind farms on the marine environment and animals, from the planning phase through to the construction, operation and decommissioning of the farm.
Avoiding sensitive sites, integrating the development of wind farms in marine management decisions, using clever designs and offsetting residual impacts will minimize adverse impacts and maximize the benefits for biodiversity, the report says. It will also help reduce the time spent on consenting processes for wind farm development, which currently takes around five years.
“Continued careful monitoring of offshore wind energy developments and their actual impacts on marine wildlife will be vital to generate reliable data and help ensure that offshore wind energy fulfils its sustainable potential”, says Nadine McCormick, IUCN’s Energy Network Coordinator.