The struggling monarch butterfly faces potential disaster if the Ontario government’s moratorium on offshore wind turbines is ever lifted and a proposed wind farm for the middle of Lake Erie – right in the butterfly’s migration path – goes ahead, biologists warn.
“I’m really concerned about butterflies. They don’t fly that high,” said Scott Petrie, executive director of Long Point Waterfowl, a non-governmental body studying the impact the turbines would have on water birds in the area.
Petrie said he fears that if the Liberals are re-elected in the fall, they will lift the moratorium they imposed earlier this winter and an 85-kilometre long set of turbines proposed off Long Point will go ahead.
Jon McCracken, director of national programs for Bird Studies Canada, said a mid-lake wind farm “could be a disaster, it could be benign” for the monarchs as well as migrating bats.
“The key thing is we don’t know,” said McCracken. “If you don’t know what the answer is, you should find out . . . Bats and butterflies could be put at risk.”
Every fall, monarchs gather along the north shore of Lake Erie, on their way to their winter home in Mexico, where they wait for a northerly wind to take them across the lake.
“We don’t know how high they (butterflies and bats) fly,” noted McCracken.
“We think the province is quite wise curtailing this (offshore wind farms) pending further scientifi c review.”
The monarch’s numbers have been falling in the past few years. BSC carries out counts of the butterfly, which has been declared a “species of concern” in Canada, at its station at the tip of Long Point every fall and has found its numbers to have dropped dramatically in the past three to four years.
In 2010, the butterfly’s winter numbers in Mexico dropped to a record low. This winter’s numbers have improved: they’ve doubled from last year but are still only slightly more than half the long-term average.
McCracken said BSC has yet to analyze its numbers from last fall’s migration but suspects they are “an improvement.”
Another concern, said Petri, are the low-pressure air pockets created around the swirling blades of the turbines that cause bats’ lungs to implode, instantly killing them.
Nobody knows how butterflies will react to the pockets if they fly into them, he said.
McCracken noted the low-pressure effect is newly discovered. “It’s something nobody predicted.”
The wind farm off Long Point combined with other projects proposed for the American side would form a wall of turbines that would be hazardous not only to butterflies but also bats and birds migrating to and from the Long Point area, Petrie added.
“If all the turbines proposed on the Canada and U.S. sides are built on and offshore, we are probably in store for a major disruption of the migration of birds,” he warned.
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