Win-win energy crisis: New North Sea wind project can help restore UK biodiversity | Science | New

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According to marine ecologist Dr Remment ter Hofstede and colleagues, “The North Sea was once abundantly covered with hard substrates such as oyster beds, coarse peat beds and glacial erratics – providing habitat for a rich community of marine species”. However, they added: “Most of these habitats have been destroyed by bottom trawling over the past century and today the seabed supports a relatively poor community of species.” Offshore wind farms emerging include the reintroduction of hard substrate by means of scour protection around the foundation of wind turbines.” It was hypothesized, the researchers explained, that this new habitat could enhance marine biodiversity.

To find out if this was true, Dr. ter Hofstede and his team studied four wind farms in the southern part of the North Sea: Belwind, Gemini, Luchterduinen and Princess Amalia.

According to the researchers, all the turbines of these wind farms were installed on a so-called monopile foundation – large steel tubes driven into the seabed.

At the base of these, pancake-like layers of rocky material have been deposited to protect the seabed from erosion.

These include a filter bed or a quarried rock of small size such as granite topped with an armor layer of larger rocks.

To examine the marine life on and around the wind turbine scour protection, the researchers sent a remotely operated vehicle to collect video footage.

The researchers found that the communities living on the rock armor layer of the scour protection were different from those living on the surrounding sandy seabed – and also had greater species diversity.

For example, species found primarily or exclusively on the scour protection included “dead man’s finger” coral, common lobster, tunicates, and wrasse.

In contrast, the sandy seabed was preferred by species such as the sand sea star, mason star worm, and common sole.

Observations also revealed that wind farms located close to each other had more similar seabed community compositions than those located farther apart.

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The team added: “Marine life can benefit from protection from scour at offshore wind farms, as these provide hard substrate that otherwise would not be present in the area.

“Rock-dwelling species now have the opportunity to thrive in the largely sandy southern North Sea system.

“Protection against scour leads to greater abundance and diversity of epibenthic species at offshore wind farms.”

The researchers concluded: “Incorporating tailored components into the design of scour protection that further benefit epibenthic biodiversity could help new wind farms contribute to biodiversity in the North Sea.

The full results of the study have been published in the Journal of Sea Research.

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