Potential impacts of wave-powered marine renewable energy installations on marine birds

Authors

  • W. JAMES GRECIAN,

    Corresponding author
    1. Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre, Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE) and Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK
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  • RICHARD INGER,

    1. Centre for Ecology and Conservation and PRIMaRE, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
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  • MARTIN J. ATTRILL,

    1. Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre, Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE) and Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK
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  • STUART BEARHOP,

    1. Centre for Ecology and Conservation and PRIMaRE, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
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  • BRENDAN J. GODLEY,

    1. Centre for Ecology and Conservation and PRIMaRE, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
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  • MATTHEW J. WITT,

    1. Centre for Ecology and Conservation and PRIMaRE, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
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  • STEPHEN C. VOTIER

    1. Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre, Peninsula Research Institute for Marine Renewable Energy (PRIMaRE) and Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK
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Corresponding author.
Email: james.grecian@plymouth.ac.uk

Abstract

One potential approach to combat the impacts of climate change is the expansion of renewable energy installations, leading to an increase in the number of wave-powered marine renewable energy installations (MREIs). The consequences of increased use of these devices for birds are unknown. Here we describe the wave-powered energy-generating devices currently either operational or in development and review the potential threats and benefits of these to marine birds, their habitats and prey. Direct negative effects include risk of collision, disturbance, displacement and redirection during construction, operation and decommissioning. Above-water collision is a particular concern with wind-powered devices, but, because of their low profiles, the collision risk associated with wave-powered devices is likely to be much lower. Conversely, wave devices also pose the novel threat of underwater collision. Wave-energy-generating devices may indirectly impact marine birds by altering oceanographic processes and food availability, with implications for trophic cascades. Through appropriate mitigation, wave-powered MREIs offer the potential to enhance habitats. Direct positive effects may include provision of roosting sites, and indirect positive effects may include prey aggregation due to suitable substrates for sessile organisms or because they act as de facto protected areas. The cumulative effect of these could be the improvement and protection of foraging opportunities for marine birds. Recent studies have been critical of the methods used in the assessment of wind-powered MREI impacts, which lack sufficient sample sizes, controls or pre-development comparisons. Here we suggest solutions for the design of future studies into the effects of MREIs. Wave-powered MREIs are certain to become part of the marine environment, but with appropriate planning, mitigation and monitoring they have the potential to offer benefits to marine birds in the future.

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