UK: Measures Taken to Protect Teesside Wildlife
As work progresses on the installation of the new Teesside Offshore Windfarm, special measures are being taken to ensure the protection of marine mammals and other wildlife.
The wind farm being established by EDF Energy Renewables is located 1.5km off the north east coast at South Gare, Redcar. Work has been ongoing since early February on the installation of the steel monopiles that will form the foundations for the 27 turbine towers capable of generating over 60MW of green electricity.
Under the direction of the renewable energy and environmental consulting firm PMSS, the specialist marine sciences company Gardline is helping to ensure that all necessary steps are being taken to protect marine life in the immediate vicinity of the offshore construction site.
Whales and dolphins (collectively known as cetaceans), seals, marine turtles and basking sharks are all protected under UK law and it is of paramount importance to ensure that they are not disturbed by piling activities.
Cetacean species that can be seen in the area include the harbour porpoise, white-beaked dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and minke whale. There are also local colonies of both grey and harbour seals. Basking sharks, although not a common sight, are also occasionally spotted.
Sound is the most important sense for many marine organisms. This is especially true for marine mammals which use sound to communicate, navigate, forage and for predator avoidance. Due to their sensitivity to subsea noise it is important to make sure that the area around the piling is clear of marine mammals before work starts.
Before each piling exercise, a specialist team from Gardline uses a dedicated vessel to circle the piling site at a distance of 250 m, making sure that there are no marine mammals near to the piling operations.
One member of the team is responsible for visual monitoring, using the naked eye and binoculars, whilst the other team member uses special equipment in the water to listen for the sounds made by whales and dolphins.
Joana Cid Torres, Gardline Project Manager for the marine mammal mitigation at the Teesside Windfarm project, said: “For at least half an hour before piling is due to start the team undertakes visual watches for marine mammals. We also use a piece of equipment called a hydrophone to listen to the vocalisations made by whales and dolphins.
“Once the area has been monitored for 30 minutes and marine mammals have not been detected piling work can start.”
If a marine mammal enters the area, the start of work is delayed until the animal is clearly seen to leave.
As part of the environmental impact assessment carried out for the planning application for the project, surveys of birds, fish and other marine creatures have been carried out on the site and neighbouring areas over many years.
Bird life is surveyed from boats, planes and the shore and fish surveys involve various methods through the important seasons for each type of fish or shellfish.
Tim Bland, EDF Energy Renewables Project Manager for Teesside, said: “The various surveys and research carried out have ensured that we have a good understanding of the wildlife in the area and in the immediate vicinity of the wind farm site.
“Protecting the local marine ecology is a priority for the project and wherever possible we take whatever steps are necessary to avoid any potentially disturbing activities.”
When the wind farm is completed it is also anticipated that there may well be an improvement in fish and shell fish populations within the site.
Tim said: “Offshore wind farm developments can potentially produce positive effects on the marine environment as a result of their capacity to act as both artificial reefs and fish aggregation devices. These effects can occur following the installation of turbine foundation structures which create new habitat structures for species to colonise.
“This habitat provision can increase biodiversity and the abundance of marine species in the vicinity of the wind farm.”
When the wind farm is operational, beach surveys and the monitoring of local marine ecology will be continued for at least three years to ensure compliance with all planning consents.
Work on the installation of above sea level transition pieces will start in June and turbine towers will be installed in late summer, with electricity being generated by the wind farm beginning in the autumn.
Offshore WIND staff, May 4, 2012; Image: EDF