On Monday 14th July, the Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt announced a huge expansion in offshore wind farms in UK waters, but what are the impacts on our marine wildlife?
Despite being strongly supportive of the move towards renewable energy generation in terms of the potential consequences for the reduction of climate change on cetaceans, WDCS remains concerned about the impact that these large developments in the marine environment will have on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
The new wind farms will be built on a much larger scale than has previously been seen and will be placed between 10-30km offshore ñ potentially bringing them directly into contact with cetaceans.
Large gaps remain in our knowledge of the whales, dolphins and porpoises which live year round or migrate through UK waters. No clear picture exists of their abundance and distribution in most areas of the UK so when selecting sites, it may be impossible for developers to avoid important cetacean habitat. Dedicated survey work is needed for the proposed areas of development to inform decisions and minimise the effects on cetacean populations.
In addition to habitat loss caused by the presence of the structures, WDCS is concerned about the high potential for cetaceans to be disturbed and displaced by noise introduced into their environment from the construction and operation of offshore wind farms, due to their high acoustic sensitivity.
As this is a relatively new area of development, there is a lack of detailed information on the potential impacts on cetaceans and other marine life. The combined effects of these developments with other industries operating in the marine environment, such as shipping and oil and gas exploration are also largely unknown. This information needs to be considered before development begins if there is to be any chance of minimising risk and mitigating against impacts.
Unless survey work is undertaken to complete these significant data gaps before development begins, no proper assessment of the full effects of offshore wind farms will be possible.
Notes for Editors
1. Patricia Hewitt announced offshore wind farms Round 2 at a Press Conference at the DTI at 9.30am on Monday 14 July.
2. Three strategic areas have been identified ñ Thames Estuary, Liverpool Bay and the Greater Wash
3. Round 2 should eventually provide up to 6 GW of power by 2010, enough to power 15% of households in the UK. Round 1, which was announced in December 2002 has resulted in 17 proposals, some of which are already under construction, and should eventually consist of 500 turbines generating 1.5 GW of power.
4. WDCS is very concerned about the growing problem of noise pollution for cetaceans. This is discussed in depth, with particular reference to marine wind farms, in the report “Oceans of Noise” and is available from the WDCS website.
16 August 2003
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