‘Ecosystem services’ to provide framework for tidal impacts evaluation

Brown University scientists propose that in order to gain the insights into the ecological and socioeconomic effects ocean renewables could potentially have, changes in benefits provided by ocean ecosystem before and after deployment of ocean energy infrastructure should be observed.

As tidal energy is becoming a promising new source of energy, the impacts it could have on the environment are little known so far.

In a new study, Heather Leslie from Brown University suggests that ‘ecosystem services’ – the benefits provided by functioning ecosystems to people – could provide an adequate framework for evaluating the impacts.

Ocean energy developers are required to perform environmental studies prior to deploying tidal energy devices, but the studies do not include full range of connections between people and marine environments, the scientists say.

Heather Leslie, Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology, said: “The ability to explicitly link ecosystem health (or functioning, as ecologists often refer to it) and benefits to people is one of the notable differences between an ecosystem services analysis and a typical environmental impact statement.”

Scientis have identified biodiversity, tourism and recreaton, and food provision as the most important ecosystem services for assessment, based on the research on Muskeget Channel Tidal Energy Project, off Edgartown, Massachusetts.

The scientists concluded that “an ecosystem services approach enables researchers and energy developers to create an integrative description of the possible environmental and socioeconomic impacts of a particular project, which in turn can help inform project planning, implementation and monitoring.”

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Image: Brown University