The Rich North Sea Project Manager: ‘Achieving no negative impact is not enough’

The North Sea is one of the most biodiverse, but also one of the most active bodies of water on our planet, which led to the degradation of its marine environment. Now, with a boom in offshore wind, environmental organisations, together with the industry, are exploring ways for offshore wind farms to not only have a neutral effect, but to enhance and restore the North Sea life.

From fishing, oil and gas exploitation, to marine traffic activities, the North Sea has not seen a quiet moment for decades. With climate change impact on marine life added to that, the North Sea marine environment is in trouble.

“Looking at our Dutch North Sea, about 100 to 200 years ago, in about 30 per cent of the North Sea large oyster beds could be found, but due to overfishing and diseases almost all of these habitats have disappeared. At the current moment, only a fraction, which is 0.3 per cent, of the seafloor is protected from bottom trawling. And climate change is now adding to these pressures“, Marjolein Kelder, Senior Project Manager at The Rich North Sea programme in the Netherlands, said at the Future Proof session during Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference in Amsterdam.

Watch the session on OEEC 2022 On Demand

But what does this mean for offshore wind, which is an intense industrial activity on its own, and how can it not only mitigate its impact, but add to enhancing nature below and above the water surface?

“Since we are operating in a system that is already in a degrading state, achieving no negative impact is not enough. We need to strive towards achieving a positive impact. To achieve these positive impacts, you can take either passive or active nature enhancement measures”, Marjolein Kelder said.

It all starts with site selection, where areas selected to build offshore wind farms need to be away from the areas that have the highest value for nature. Then, it is all about measures taken within the project.

Active measures change the marine environment, they increase the effects an offshore wind farm has on nature, while the passive approach limits those effects. Passive measures include eliminating and mitigating some of the risks such as collision and underwater noise, and active approach involves measures such as building artificial reefs.

The Rich North Sea, which ends in December next year – but its participants are already looking to prolong the programme due to its relevancy – is cooperating with the offshore wind industry to explore nature enhancement measures.

Back in 2020, Van Oord started the oyster beds project at its Borssele V offshore wind site, which was allocated for innovation by the Dutch government.

Now, the company is taking part in The Rich North Sea programme, together with Blauwwind, Tennet, Eneco, Ørsted, Natuur & Milieu and Stichting De Noordzee.

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As reported over the past few years, developers are working on restoration and nature enhancement projects outside the Netherlands, as well.

For example, Ørsted teamed up with ARK nature whose focus is on restoring shellfish reefs that are fundamental to ecological restoration in the North Sea.

In the UK, Ørsted, together with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, is planning to develop a seagrass restoration project as part of the company’s 2.6 GW Hornsea Project Four offshore wind farm. The developer will also implement similar measures as part of its Hornsea Three offshore wind project, as part of which the company will set up artificial nesting structures for the Black-legged kittiwake.

Back to the Netherlands, The Rich North Sea programme is not only partnering with the industry, but is also looking at policy and legislation to anchor nature enhancement as a new standard for every future offshore wind farm, according to Marjolein Kelder.

The findings from research and testing done under The Rich North Sea programme will be shared open-source.

This is only a small part of what The Rich North Sea’s Senior Project Manager shared at the conference session on 30 November.

The session also saw two more topics on ‘future proofing’ the industry: sustainable implementation of hydrogen and cybersecurity – both extremely relevant and becoming more prominent with each day. You can access the entire conference session at OEEC On Demand:

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[Reporting: Adnan Memija; Editing: Adrijana Buljan]