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Offshore wind power provides a valuable source of renewable energy that can help reduce carbon emissions. Technological advances are allowing higher capacity turbines to be installed and in deeper water, but there is still much that is unknown about the effects on the environment. Here we describe the lessons learned based on the recent literature and our experience with assessing impacts of offshore wind developments on marine mammals and seabirds, and make recommendations for future monitoring and assessment as interest in offshore wind energy grows around the world. The four key lessons learned that we discuss are: 1) Identifying the area over which biological effects may occur to inform baseline data collection and determining the connectivity between key populations and proposed wind energy sites, 2) The need to put impacts into a population level context to determine whether they are biologically significant, 3) Measuring responses to wind farm construction and operation to determine disturbance effects and avoidance responses, and 4) Learn from other industries to inform risk assessments and the effectiveness of mitigation measures. As the number and size of offshore wind developments increases, there will be a growing need to consider the population level consequences and cumulative impacts of these activities on marine species. Strategically targeted data collection and modeling aimed at answering questions for the consenting process will also allow regulators to make decisions based on the best available information, and achieve a balance between climate change targets and environmental legislation.
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R E V I E W Open Access
Assessing environmental impacts of offshore wind
farms: lessons learned and recommendations for
the future
Helen Bailey
1*
, Kate L Brookes
2
and Paul M Thompson
3
Abstract
Offshore wind power provides a valuable source of renewable energy that can help reduce carbon emissions.
Technological advances are allowing higher capacity turbines to be installed and in deeper water, but there is still
much that is unknown about the effects on the environment. Here we describe the lessons learned based on the
recent literature and our experience with assessing impacts of offshore wind developments on marine mammals
and seabirds, and make recommendations for future monitoring and assessment as interest in offshore wind
energy grows around the world. The four key lessons learned that we discuss are: 1) Identifying the area over
which biological effects may occur to inform baseline data collection and determining the connectivity between
key populations and proposed wind energy sites, 2) The need to put impacts into a population level context to
determine whether they are biologically significant, 3) Measuring responses to wind farm construction and
operation to determine disturbance effects and avoidance responses, and 4) Learn from other industries to inform
risk assessments and the effectiveness of mitigation measures. As the number and size of offshore wind
developments increases, there will be a growing need to consider the population level consequences and
cumulative impacts of these activities on marine species. Strategically targeted data collection and modeling aimed
at answering questions for the consenting process will also allow regulators to make decisions based on the best
available information, and achieve a balance between climate change targets and environmental legislation.
Keywords: Marine mammals, Seabirds, Wind turbine, Underwater noise, Collision risk, Human impacts, Cumulative
impact assessment, Population consequences
Introduction
Efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase produc-
tion from renewable energy sources have led to rapid
growth in offshore wind energy generation, particularly in
northern European waters [1,2]. The first commercial
scale offshore wind farm, Horns Rev 1 (160 MW with 80
turbines of 2 MW), became operational in 2002. The aver-
age capacity of turbines and size of offshore wind farms
have been increasing since then, and they are being in-
stalled in deeper waters further from the coast. By the end
of 2013, operational wind farms were in an average water
depthof16mand29kmfromshoreinEurope[3]
(Figure 1). With technological advances in the future [4]
there is likely to be a continued increase in the size of off-
shore wind projects [3], but there are still uncertainties
about the effects on the environment [5]. The novelty of
the technology and construction processes make it diffi-
cult to identify all of the stressors on marine species and
to estimate the effect of these activities [6].
The major environmental concerns related to offshore
wind developments are increased noise levels, risk of colli-
sions, changes to benthic and pelagic habitats, alterations
to food webs, and pollution from increased vessel traffic
or release of contaminants from seabed sediments. There
are several reviews of the potential impacts of offshore
wind energy on marine species e.g. [5-7]. As well as poten-
tial adverse impacts, there are possible environmental ben-
efits. For example, wind turbine foundations may act as
artificial reefs, providing a surface to which animals attach.
Consequently there can be increases in the number of
* Correspondence: hbailey@umces.edu
1
Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for
Environmental Science, 146 Williams Street, Solomons, MD 20688, USA
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
AQUATIC BIOSYSTEMS
© 2014 Bailey et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain
Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article,
unless otherwise stated.
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8
http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/8
shellfish, and the animals that feed on them, including
fish and marine mammals [8-11]. A second possible
benefit is the sheltering effect. A safety buffer zone sur-
rounding the wind turbines may become a de-facto
marine reserve, as the exclusion of boats within this
zone would reduce disturbance from shipping. Exclu-
sion of some or all types of fishing could also result in
local increases in prey abundance for top predators,
whilst reducing the risk of bycatch in fishing gear [9].
Further research is required to understand the ability of
wind turbines to attract marine species and the effect of
excluding fisheries. Finally, there may also be opportun-
ities in the future to combine offshore wind farms with
open ocean aquaculture [12].
Over 2,000 wind turbines are installed in 69 offshore
wind farms across Europe, with the greatest installed
capacity currently in the U.K. (Figure 2) [3]. As the
number of offshore wind farms has increased, ap-
proaches for environmental monitoring and assessment
have improved over time. However, there are still few
studies that have measured the responses of marine spe-
cies to offshore wind farm construction and operation,
and none have yet assessed longer term impacts at the
population level. In Europe, legislation requires consid-
eration of cumulative impacts, defined as impacts that
result from incremental changes caused by other past,
present or foreseeable actions together with the project
[13]. However, approaches for cumulative impact as-
sessments currently vary in terms of their transparency,
efficiency and complexity, and this is an active area of
research development [14]. In addition to assessing and
measuring impacts, it is also necessary to develop de-
cision support tools that will assist regulators with
determining whether a proposed development can be
legally consented.
In this paper, we first briefly review the potential im-
pacts of offshore wind developments on marine species.
We then identify the key lessons that have been learned
from our own studies and others in Europe, primarily fo-
cusing on marine mammals and seabirds. Much of the
environmental research that has been conducted in rela-
tion to offshore wind energy has concerned the impact
of sound exposure for marine mammals and the risk of
collisions with turbines for seabirds. We identify where
knowledge gaps exist that could help to improve current
models and impact assessments. Finally, we discuss emer-
ging technologies and make recommendations for future
research to support regulators, developers and researchers
involved in proposed developments, particularly in coun-
tries where the implementation of offshore wind energy is
still in its early stages.
Impact pathways
The potential effects of offshore wind farm construction
and operation will differ among species, depending on
their likelihood of interaction with the structures and ca-
bles, sensitivities, and avoidance responses. Studies have
generally focused on marine mammals and seabirds be-
cause of stakeholder concerns and legal protection for
these species and their habitats. The construction phase is
likely to have the greatest impact on marine mammals and
the activities of greatest concern are pile driving and in-
creased vessel traffic [15]. Pile driving is currently the most
common method used to secure the turbine foundation to
the seafloor, although other foundation types are being de-
veloped [4]. The loud sounds emitted during pile driving
Figure 1 Average water depth and distance to shore of offshore wind farms (reproduced from ref. 3, source EWEA). Operational (online),
under construction and consented wind farms in Europe up to the end of 2013 are occurring at increasing water depths and distances from
shore. The circle size represents the total power capacity of the wind farm.
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 Page 2 of 13
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could potentially cause hearing damage, masking of calls
or spatial displacement as animals move out of the area to
avoid the noise [16,17]. Fish could similarly be affected by
these sounds [17-20]. There is also a risk to marine mam-
mals, sea turtles and fish of collision and disturbance from
vessel movements associated with surveying and installa-
tion activities.
During operation of the wind turbines, underwater
sound levels are unlikely to reach dangerous levels or mask
acoustic communication of marine mammals [21,22].
However, this phase of the development is of greatest con-
cern for seabirds. Mortality can be caused by collision with
the moving turbine blades, and avoidance responses may
result in displacement from key habitat or increase ener-
getic costs [23,24]. This may affect birds migrating through
the area as well as those that breed or forage in the
vicinity.
During operation, cables transmitting the produced
electricity will also emit electromagnetic fields. This
could affect the movements and navigation of species
that are sensitive to electro- or magnetic fields, which
includes fish species, particularly elasmobranchs and
some teleost fish and decapod crustaceans, and sea tur-
tles [25-27]. Commercial fish species may potentially be
positively affected if fishing is prohibited in the vicinity
of the wind farm, although this could result in a dis-
placement of fisheries effort and consequent change in
catches and bycatch.
The specific species of greatest concern will differ among
regions depending on their occurrence and protection sta-
tus. For example, assessments of impacts upon marine
mammals in Europe have generally focused on small ceta-
ceans (particularly harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena))
and pinnipeds (primarily harbor seals (Phoca vitulina)).
These species are common in such areas and the EU Habi-
tats Directive (92/43/EEC) requires governments to estab-
lish Special Areas of Conservation for their protection.
However, in other locations, marine mammal species listed
under the Endangered Species Act, such as the North
Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), blue whale
(Balaenoptera musculus), humpback whale (Megaptera
novaeangliae), and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus),
Figure 2 Offshore wind farms around the U.K., July 2014. This includes wind farms in operation (black wind turbines), those consented and
under development (blue stars), and in the proposal and planning stages (red stars).
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 Page 3 of 13
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may be of greater concern. Based on their call frequencies,
these large whales are considered to be sensitive to the
low frequency sounds produced during pile driving
[16,28,29].
There is also a paucity of information on the effects of
human-generated sound on fish [18,20,30,31]. Evidence
of injury from pile driving sounds in a laboratory simu-
lated environment has been reported for several fish spe-
cies [32-34]. Recovery tended to occur within 10 days of
exposure and is unlikely to have affected the survival of
the exposed animals. Common sole larvae (Solea solea)
also survived high levels of pile-driving sound in con-
trolled exposure experiments [35]. However, a behavioral
response was triggered in cod (Gadus morhua) and sole
by playbacks of pile driving sounds in the field and was
initiated at a much lower received sound level [36]. This
could consequently result in a large zone of behavioral
response. The sounds produced by offshore wind farms
may also mask fish communication and orientation sig-
nals [30]. These responses need to be investigated fur-
ther to determine their potential effect on foraging,
breeding and migration, and require the ability to record
the movements of fish as well as the measurement of
sound pressure levels and particle motion since fish are
sensitive to both [18,37]. Some fish species are short-
lived and highly fecund reducing the likelihood of any
longer-term population level effects from wind farm
noise and disturbance. However, this is not true of all
fish species and there are endangered species, such as
the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus), those listed
as vulnerable, such as the basking shark (Cetorhinus
maximus), and potential impacts to fisheries which may
need to be taken into consideration.
Much of the early work investigating impacts upon
bird populations at European sites has focused on spe-
cies of migratory or wintering waterfowl [23,38]. There
is much less known about potential collision risk or dis-
placement for the broader suite of seabird species that
occur in many of the areas currently being considered
for large scale wind farm developments. Migrating bats
have also been found to occur offshore [39,40], although
relatively little research on their offshore distribution,
collision risk and potential displacement by offshore
wind farms has been done compared to that for wind
farms on land [39,41].
Other taxonomic groups such as sea turtles are rare
visitors to coastal European waters, and have not been
considered at high risk from the effects of offshore
wind farms. However, in other areas, for example along
the North American coast, there may be sea turtle
nesting or breeding grounds in the vicinity of proposed
sites [42]. It has recently been determined that the
hearing sensitivity of leatherback turtles overlaps with
the frequencies and source levels produced by many
anthropogenic sounds, including pile-driving [43]. This
highlights the need for a better understanding of the
potential physiological and behavioral impacts on sea
turtles.
Lessons learned
Environmental research for offshore wind energy has
evolved over time in Europe as a better understanding of
the type of information and analysis that best informs
decisions about the siting of offshore wind facilities has
been developed. Other countries interested in offshore
wind energy, such as the U.S.A. (Figure 3), may therefore
benefit from the European experience and hindsight to
maximize the potential success of their projects [44].
Based on our experiences relating to marine mammals
and seabirds, the key lessons learned that we have iden-
tified are:
1. Define the area of potential effect
Identifying the area over which biological effects
may occur to inform baseline data collection.
Determining the connectivity between key
populations and proposed wind energy sites.
2. Identify the scale and significance of population level
impacts
The need to define populations, identify which
populations occur within the wind energy site
and the area of potential effect, and their current
status.
The requirement for demographic data and
information on vital rates to link individual
responses to population level consequences.
Research to test and validate modeling
assumptions and parameters.
3. Validate models through measuring responses in the
field
Use of a gradient design to determine the extent
of spatial displacement as a result of offshore
wind energy development and how this may
change over time.
Utilization of techniques with the power to
detect changes.
Coordination of human activities and monitoring
in the vicinity of wind energy sites.
4. Learn from other industries to inform risk
assessments and the effectiveness of mitigation
measures.
Onshore wind energy, seismic surveys and
floating oil platforms.
We will discuss each of these lessons learned in more
detail and then provide recommendations for further re-
search to fill identified knowledge gaps, test existing
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models and improve future environmental impact as-
sessments (EIA).
The area of potential effect
To evaluate the impact of a proposed activity on marine
species, it is necessary to have sufficient baseline informa-
tion on distribution, abundance and their trends within
the area of potential effect. This is particularly challenging
for many marine species since some stressors, such as
underwater sound, can travel long distances, and these
species are often highly mobile and/or migratory. Conse-
quently, the area of potential effect can extend far beyond
the immediate vicinity of the proposed development. For
example, the sound produced during pile driving may
travel tens of kilometers underwater, which could cause
behavioral disturbance to marine mammals and fish over
a large area [17]. Early baseline studies in relation to mar-
ine mammals and the impact upon them from underwater
pile driving noise were designed on relatively uncertain es-
timates of the area of potential effect, and some of the
control sites used were subsequently identified as being
impacted [45,46].
Pile-driving sounds were recorded to determine the re-
ceived levels at a range of distances during the construc-
tion of the Beatrice Demonstrator Wind Farm project in
the Moray Firth, Scotland [47] (Figure 2). This wind farm
consisted of two 5 MW turbines in water 42 m deep with
1.8 m diameter tubular steel piles to secure the jacket
foundation structure to the seafloor. Pile-driving sounds
were recorded at 0.1 to 70 km away and the peak to peak
sound pressure levels ranged from 122205 dB re 1 μPa.
Based on the measurements within 1 km, the source level
was back-calculated and estimated to be 226 dB re 1 μPa
at 1 m [47]. Each pile required thousands of hammer
blows and was struck about once every second.
Since pile-driving involves multiple strikes, it is con-
sidered a multiple pulse sound. The sound exposure
level (SEL) is a measure of the energy of a sound and
depends on both the pressure level and duration [28].
This can be summed over multiple strikes to give the
cumulative SEL [19,28]. The cumulative energy level
over the full pile-driving duration gives a measure of the
dose of exposure, assuming no recovery of hearing be-
tween repeated strikes, and is necessary for assessing
cumulative impacts.
There were, and still are, insufficient data available to
develop noise exposure criteria for behavioral responses of
marine mammals to multiple-pulsed noise such as pile
driving [28]. Evidence of behavioral disturbance from
sounds arising from pile-driving has been obtained
through simulated, playback, and live conditions, and indi-
cates that the zone of responsiveness for harbor porpoises
may extend to 20 km or more [45,46,48-52]. However, re-
sponse distances will vary depending on the activity being
undertaken by the animal when it is exposed to the sound,
the sound source level, sound propagation, and ambient
noise levels [16,28,53]. Limited understanding of the role
of these different environmental, physical and biological
Figure 3 Potential wind energy areas in the Mid-Atlantic off the U.S.A. (source BOEM). There are no commercial wind farms currently on
the Atlantic outer continental shelf off the U.S.A., but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has designated wind energy areas, which
are in the planning (orange squares) and leased (green squares) stages (July 2014).
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factors currently constrain assessments of the potential
scale of impact at particular development sites.
Collecting baseline information for such large areas of
potential effect presents a number of challenges. In cases
where there is little or no existing information on the spe-
cies of concern, such as their distribution and abundance
in more offshore areas, it can be difficult to determine ap-
propriate designs for impact studies [49]. The logistical
difficulties of working offshore, along with financial limita-
tions, may additionally restrict the number of sampling
sites and replicates. It has been recommended that at least
two years of baseline data are necessary for a sufficient de-
scription of species occurrences [54]. However, whilst this
may provide information on seasonal variability, longer
time-series of data are ideally required to capture inter-
annual variability in order to identify the effects of con-
struction activities over natural variation (which may be
high) [54,55]. Given that data collection over these large
spatial and temporal scales will be so difficult to achieve, it
is crucial that studies are targeted to focus upon those data
which are critical for supporting decision making. Baseline
data and modeling should be targeted to answer specific
questions relating to the consenting process, meaning that
monitoring and site characterization requirements may
differ under different legislative systems. For example,
consent may require an understanding of the connectivity
of a proposed wind energy site with key protected popula-
tions. In Scottish waters, this requirement has focused re-
search efforts on areas within and surrounding proposed
wind energy sites, and between these sites and EU desig-
nated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for harbor
seals and for bottlenose dolphins [56-58].
For birds, the operational phase of wind farms is likely
to present the biggest risk. Vulnerability and mortality
at onshore wind turbines has been identified as being
related to a combination of site-specific, species-specific
and seasonal factors [59]. The development of collision risk
models for seabirds requires information on their spatial
distribution and flight heights to determine the likelihood
of co-occurrence with the wind turbine blades, and their
avoidanceresponsetoestimatethemortalityrisk[60].
However, much of this relies on expert-based estimates be-
cause there are very few empirical data on flight heights
for different seabird species [24]. Although there have been
estimates of flight heights during ship-based surveys where
they are classified into altitude categories there can be
large inter-observer differences [61]. One recent approach
to address this data gap is to model flight height distribu-
tions based on compilations of survey data [62,63].
While information on site-specific flight heights of bird
species is lacking, there is even less information on avoid-
ance responses to large offshore wind farms by birds. The
few studies examining avoidance behavior involved track-
ing eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) and geese by radar.
These studies documented a substantial avoidance re-
sponse by these migrating birds, which reduced the colli-
sion risk [23,64]. There is a need for empirical data on
both broad and fine-scale avoidance responses to improve
the reliability of predictions from collision risk models
[65]. There should also be a focus not only on estimates of
mortality, but also of the energetic consequences of avoid-
ance and displacement behaviors [66], and their impacts
on survival and fecundity. The cumulative impacts of dif-
ferent disturbance activities (such as ship and helicopter
traffic) and multiple wind energy sites within the migra-
tion pathway or home range of a population should also
be considered [67].
Population level impacts
The regulatory requirements for assessing the impacts of a
proposed activity and determining whether it is biologic-
ally significant will vary among countries. However, in
general this process will require populations to be defined,
identifying which of these populations occur within the
area of potential effect, and understanding their current
status to determine whether the impact will be significant.
The complexity of approaches, models and simulation
tools to support these assessments has greatly increased
over time [24,58,68]. However, there are still many know-
ledge gaps concerning behavioral responses, particularly
on the consequences of any behavioral change on vital
rates. For example, there is a growing understanding that
anthropogenic noise, such as pile-driving, may affect the
behavior of marine mammals and lead to spatial displace-
ment [69]. However, there have been no empirical studies
linking the consequences of this behavioral response to
longer term population change. Similarly, there are con-
cerns that the presence of wind farms may displace sea-
birds from preferred foraging areas [24], but there is
limited understanding either of the extent of such effects
or of the individual and population consequences of dis-
placement, should it occur.
For other management issues, such as bycatch, estimates
of Potential Biological Removal have provided manage-
ment limits for human-caused mortality in mammals
[70,71], but this approach cannot be used for assessing
non-lethal impacts. To address this, a framework was de-
veloped called Population Consequences of Acoustic Dis-
turbance(PCAD) [29,72]. The aim of this approach is to
link behavioral responses by individuals and their vital
rates to determine the consequences for the population.
In addition to the spatially-explicit information on distri-
bution and abundance typically collected for impact as-
sessments, this approach also requires knowledge of
doseresponse relationships to link behavioral responses and
demographic parameters. Since a general characterization
of the doseresponse relationship between received noise
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levels and changes in vital rates does not exist for marine
mammals, expert judgment has been used to link indi-
vidual impacts to changes in survival or reproductive
rates [73].
Given the uncertainties involved, the population level
assessments required from developers by U.K. regulators
have been very conservative, and are expected to over-
estimate the impacts to populations. Nevertheless, the
application of such an approach to a harbor seal popula-
tion suggested that the population trends were largely
driven by the baseline dynamics of the population and,
even in a worst-case scenario of impacts, only a short
term reduction in numbers would be expected to occur
[58]. The long-term dynamics appeared relatively robust
to uncertainty in key assumptions, but there is still a
strong reliance on expert judgment and many assump-
tions are made. Focused studies around subsequent de-
velopments are now required to test these modeling
assumptions and frameworks to ensure they are robust
and, if appropriate, made less conservative in the future.
There is also a strong reliance on expert judgment in sea-
bird collision risk models and sensitivity indices [24,60].
Avoidance rates are applied to collision risk models, but for
many species they are not based on empirical data. Work
is ongoing to provide estimates of these, but has been ham-
pered by a lack of suitable techniques. The importance of
this human-induced mortality on seabirds may depend on
the current status of the population, with conservation
concerns potentially being greater for populations that are
currently in decline. For example, black-legged kittiwakes
(Rissa tridactyla) have declined by more than 50% since
1990 in the North Sea [74]. The cause of this decline has
mainly been attributed to poor breeding success as a result
of reduced recruitment of their prey species, the lesser san-
deel (Ammodytes marinus), linked to warm winters and
the presence of a local sandeel fishery [74]. Black-legged
kittiwakes generally fly below the minimum height of any
turbines rotor blades, but there were approximately 15.7%
of flights that occurred within a generic collision risk height
band defined as 20150 m above sea level [62] and their
avoidance response is unknown. The potential additional
mortality that offshore wind farms could induce for this de-
clining population makes this species of particular concern
in the environmental assessment and consenting process.
Seabirds are considered at their most vulnerable when
wind energy sites are proposed near their breeding col-
onies. During the breeding season, they make regular
trips between their nest and foraging grounds. This
could reduce the collision risk for wind farms proposed
further offshore, but there is generally less known about
the distribution and habitat use of seabirds in these areas
outside of the breeding season, and their connectivity
with any protected areas. As wind farms move further
offshore such knowledge gaps will need to addressed.
Measuring responses
A BACI (before-after-control-impact) design was initially
recommended to assess the responses of marine mammals
to wind farm construction and operation [54]. However,
this type of design is limited in its ability to characterize
spatial variability, assigning samples to only a treatment or
control strata [75]. There are also arbitrary requirements
for the selection of control sites, which include being far
enough away to be unaffected by the potential disturb-
ance, but close enough that the areas are comparable.
Some stressors have a large area of potential effect, which
makes it difficult to identify suitable control sites with
similar ecological characteristics. Differences in variability
between sites can also be a problem in statistically detect-
ing impacts [76]. The BACI design is appropriate where
there are defined boundaries for the impacted areas, but a
gradient design will be more sensitive to change when
a contaminant or sound disperses with distance from a
point source. A gradient design requires classifying sam-
ples according to distance and removes the issue of select-
ing a control site. It is also more powerful than a
randomized Control Impact design at detecting changes
due to disturbance [77]. It has recently been demonstrated
to be more effective in terms of studying spatial displace-
ment of harbor porpoises in response to pile-driving and
detecting how temporal effects differ with distance
[48,78]. Furthermore, whilst BACI designs provide oppor-
tunities to identify whether or not impacts have occurred,
gradient designs can also be used to assess the spatial scale
of any impacts, thus informing future spatial planning
decisions.
Data collection techniques used for characterizing a site
in the planning stages may not be the most appropriate
tools for assessing impacts. Visual surveys for both birds
and mammals have generally been used to describe their
abundance and distribution in planning applications. These
techniques are unlikely to have enough power to detect
changes in behavior or fine scale spatial or temporal shifts
in distribution, since observers can only be in one place at
a time and can only reliably survey in calm sea conditions
during daylight hours. Our research has shown that acous-
tic methods for assessing impacts to marine mammals
have much greater power to detect change [49,55], and
techniques such as GPS tracking, radar, and fixed cameras
are likely to provide more useful data for seabirds [64].
GPS tracking has been used for many species and provides
high resolution data. In a recent study, it revealed harbor
seals foraging around wind turbines in the North Sea [11].
Acoustic telemetry has been a valuable tool for tracking
fish [79] and also turtle movements [80], and the technol-
ogy now exists to use this to examine the long-term, fine-
scale movements of aquatic animals [81].
The presence of other disturbance sources unrelated
to the wind farm activity may compromise efforts to
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compare periods before and after construction events. For
example, during our study of the impacts of the Beatrice
Demonstrator Wind Farm project, we later discovered
that hydrographic and seismic surveys had also been con-
ducted in the area during the construction period [49].
Determining the cause of any observed effects is therefore
confounded by these additional activities. Communication
and coordination amongst planners, regulators, industry
and scientists is therefore essential to ensure that impact
studies can be properly designed, and any cumulative im-
pacts caused by multiple events during construction or by
other human activities can be taken into account [14,82].
Greater involvement of species group specialists during
the planning process and engineering design phases may
also help to minimize any environmental conflicts at an
early stage. Careful spatial planning of wind farms has
been identified as a key factor for profitability and envir-
onmental protection [83]. Consideration of the increased
development of local ports to support construction and
maintenance of offshore wind farms and the consequent
environmental impacts is also important.
Learning from other industries
There are three existing industries whose experiences have
been usefully applied to environmental research surround-
ing offshore wind energy developments in European wa-
ters. These are onshore wind farms, seismic surveys for oil
and gas exploration, and floating oil platforms. Our know-
ledge of bird vulnerability and mortality from wind farms
has largely been based on those on land. Direct measure-
ments of mortality from offshore wind farms are much
more difficult because of the difficulty of finding corpses
at sea. The lack of direct measurements of flight height
distributions and avoidance responses for many seabird
species means there is still considerable uncertainty in the
mortality estimates and the consequent energetic costs of
avoidance behaviors for offshore wind farms, but the
modeling approaches developed for terrestrial wind
farms have provided a robust framework to begin these
assessments [84,85].
Airguns used in seismic surveys for oil and gas explor-
ation produce loud multiple pulsed noises with energy
mainly below 1 kHz, but also extending to much higher fre-
quencies [55,86]. Pile-driving also produces loud multiple-
pulsed sounds, although they tend to be more broadband
with the major amplitude at 100500 Hz compared to a
seismic airgun array at 10120 Hz [87]. In addition, pile-
driving has a shorter interval between pulses at about one
second [47,88] as opposed to seismic airgun surveys at
10 seconds or more [87]. Changes in distribution and vocal
behavior by marine mammals [55,89-92], and diving behav-
ior by loggerhead turtles [93] have been observed to occur
in response to seismic surveys. Following environmental
concerns about the impact of these explosive sounds,
underwater sound propagation models have been devel-
oped to estimate received levels. These are used to deter-
mine the distance at which injury or disturbance may occur
and to develop mitigation and monitoring plans to reduce
noise exposure [94,95]. These approaches have often been
adopted during assessments and mitigation of pile-driving
activity at offshore wind farms.
Mitigation measures for marine mammals during seis-
mic surveys typically include a soft start or ramp-up to
gradually increase the intensity of an airgun array up to
full power over a period of 20 minutes or more. This ap-
proach is to allow sufficient time for animals to leave the
immediate vicinity and avoid harmful noise levels. Similar
approaches have been applied to the blow energy intensity
during pile-driving. However, whilst this mitigation meas-
ure is implemented as a common senseapproach, no
studies have yet investigated its effectiveness systematically
[94]. The form, probability and extent of a marine mam-
mals response to anthropogenic sound will be affected by
a variety of factors. Animals may have different tolerances
for increasing sound levels depending on their current be-
havior, experience, motivation and conditioning [53]. One
study observed an avoidance response away from the ramp-
up of a 2-D seismic survey by a subgroup of pilot whales
(Globicephala macrorhynchus) that began when they were
750 m from the airgun array [96], but interpreting the reac-
tions of animals can be difficult because responses can be
vertical and/or horizontal. There is a need for further re-
search to assess the efficacy of the ramp-up soft start pro-
cedure for mitigating effects on marine mammals.
Another mitigation measure typically used is the mon-
itoring of an exclusion zone. Marine mammal observers
are required to visually, and sometimes also acoustically,
monitor within a zone in close proximity to the source
to ensure the absence of marine mammals (and possibly
other protected species such as sea turtles) before begin-
ning piling e.g. [97]. This zone may be a pre-defined
fixed distance from the source or based on the expected
sound levels. However, there is generally a mismatch be-
tween the relatively small area monitored for animals
and the potential area of impact, which is likely to be
considerably larger [98]. The exclusion zone is aimed at
reducing near-field noise exposure and protecting ani-
mals from direct physical harm.
Visual observations will be limited during poor visibility
conditions and for deep-diving species, such as beaked
whales. It is also recognized that this is unlikely to be
effective in mitigating behavioral responses over greater
distances and that disturbance in the far-field is still likely
to occur [55,86,99]. The use of real-time technologies,
such as passive acoustic monitoring [100], may be a cost-
effective approach to achieve detection coverage over a
much larger area for vocalizing animals. Detailed studies
to estimate received levels at various distances should be
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 Page 8 of 13
http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/8
conducted during the planning stages to take into account
variations in sound propagation among locations and use
this, together with spatiotemporal information on marine
mammal occurrence, to identify priority areas for moni-
toring and mitigation. Current mitigation plans also do
not consider the impacts on marine mammal prey species.
It should be identified whether any prey species (e.g. fish,
squid) are potentially sensitive to noise and disturbance
and considered in management plans accordingly to avoid
secondary, trophic-level effects, as well as impacts to the
fishing industry [18,98]. Efforts are underway to develop
technologies to reduce source levels and noise propagation
around offshore wind farm sites to help minimize bio-
logical impacts e.g. [101].
One measure that could reduce or eliminate the need
for pile-driving is the development of floating wind tur-
bine technologies, which are now being considered for
deep water (>50 m) sites [2,4,102]. Concerns have been
raised over possible entanglement risk in the moorings
used to secure the platform to anchors on the seabed.
However, the risk would appear to be small as the cables
will be under tension and such moorings would be very
similar to those widely used for floating oil platforms. As-
sessments of interactions with wildlife and existing float-
ing oil platforms could therefore inform risk assessments
for floating offshore wind turbines and identify what spe-
cies or groups, if any, may be vulnerable to entanglement.
The future
Emerging technologies
The greatest change that is likely to occur in offshore
wind energy is the increased use of floating foundations.
These are designed for deep water areas where the water
depth is greater than 50 m (Figure 4). They can currently
be used in water depths up to about 300 m but have the
potential to reach water depths of up to 700 m, which
would greatly increase the potential area for offshore
wind energy development [4]. There are many possible
designs for floating wind turbines and much more re-
search needs to be done to determine the feasibility of
these different options [2]. The first floating wind tur-
bine was installed off Norway in water 220 m deep [4].
Experimental floating turbines have also been installed
off Sweden and Portugal, with the latter being a full-
scale 2 MW grid connected model [103]. A floating tur-
bine demonstration project of 2 MW off Japan is being
followed by a plan for a 1 GW wind farm consisting of
up to 143 floating turbines scheduled for start-up in
2018 [104]. There are also currently proposals in the
planning system for floating wind turbines off Scotland
(http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/Licensing/
marine/scoping). The difference in construction of these
floating foundations from those that are fixed directly
to the seabed means that the potential impact pathways
for marine species and habitats may change. Although
there may be reduced impacts in terms of noise, our
knowledge of the environment and species distribu-
tions tends to decrease further offshore and in deeper
water.
Data requirements
The environmental assessment process for offshore wind
farms in Europe has highlighted the need for more syn-
optic studies to complement the site-specific surveys
Figure 4 Types of offshore wind turbine foundations (reproduced from ref. 102, source Principle Power). Monopile and tripod/jacket
foundations are currently proven technologies. Floating structures have been using three main types of foundations, which are adapted from the
oil and gas industry: the Tension Leg Platform (TLP), semi-submersible (Semi-sub), and Spar Buoy (Spar).
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 Page 9 of 13
http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/8
and monitoring that may be required around particular
developments. Experience in Denmark, Germany and
the Netherlands has highlighted the value of having a few
key demonstrator sites to study interactions with key re-
ceptor species in these shallow North Sea areas e.g.
[9,48,78]. Development of a broader suite of demonstrator
sites is now required to understand potential interactions
with a wider range of species and habitats that will result
from the expansion of this industry. Such demonstrator
sites could be focused on areas that build on existing re-
search programs or where there are specific species of
concern so that parameters of interest can be determined
and models for assessing impacts developed and tested.
Where regulators are required to consider potential popu-
lation level effects on protected species, demonstrator sites
should be selected to maximize the opportunity for link-
age with individual based demographic studies [105]. This
approach offers the potential to explore whether individual
and colony specific variation in exposure to stressors such
as noise or collision risk influences reproduction and sur-
vival rates. Critically, individual based studies can also be
used to assess how the impacts of particular stressors
interact with broader scale variation in environmental
conditions e.g. [106] or vary over time e.g. [107]. For ex-
ample, long-term data collection on bottlenose dolphins
and harbor seals in the Moray Firth, Northeast Scotland,
means that data on demography and fecundity are avail-
able as a baseline and can be used to determine if there
are any changes in these vital rates during construction
activities [58,108]. Focused studies such as these will be
especially important for developing and testing the
modeling frameworks that have been used to assess the
impacts of construction noise [58] or collision risk [65],
supporting a more general understanding of the longer-
term population consequence of the short-term interac-
tions recognized in current assessments. Information
on these ecological processes that can only be obtained
from a few focused studies at demonstrator sites can
then be integrated with site specific data on distribution
and abundance at proposed wind energy sites. This will
provide more robust assessments of the population con-
sequences of future developments.
Conclusions
As offshore wind farms grow in size and number around
the world, several changes in the priorities for environ-
mental research and assessments are occurring. Firstly,
there are an increasing number of cases where more
than one wind farm project may occur within the home
range of a population. Consequently, cumulative impact
assessments, which should be made at the population
level, will become increasingly important when assessing
the effect of these activities on marine species and popu-
lations. Secondly, for species such as marine mammals,
it is becoming increasingly clear that the most significant
consequences of offshore wind farm construction and
operation are likely to occur as a result of avoidance of
construction noise or structures rather than direct mor-
tality. Hence there needs to be a greater focus on asses-
sing the longer-term impact of any behavioral responses
through changes in energetic costs, survival or fecundity.
Finally, as offshore wind farms increase in scale, there is
a need to put any observed biological impacts into a
population context. This requires an understanding of
the relative scale of any impacts in relation to existing
natural variation and other anthropogenic drivers such
as fisheries bycatch or exploitation. Only then can the
population consequences be modeled and conservation
priorities be identified.
Drewitt and Langston [109] previously recommended
a number of best practice measures for reducing the im-
pacts of wind farms on birds. These recommendations
included ensuring that key areas of conservation import-
ance and sensitivity are avoided, grouping turbines to
avoid alignment perpendicular to main flight paths or
migration corridors, timing construction to avoid sensitive
periods, and timing and routing maintenance trips to re-
duce disturbance from boats, helicopters and personnel.
In practice, it is unlikely that all of these recommendations
can be met given the challenge of balancing the needs of
all stakeholders in the marine spatial planning process. In
particular, many of the sites suitable for offshore wind en-
ergy development, such as offshore sandbanks, are also
important habitats for marine species and fisheries. There
is therefore a need for careful consideration in finer scale
spatial planning and the identification of other mitigation
measures to minimize environmental and human user
conflicts. Strategic and targeted research around the next
generation of offshore wind farm sites is now required
to support the regulatorsneed to achieve a balance be-
tween climate change targets and existing environmen-
tal legislation.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Authorscontributions
The manuscript was drafted by HB and revised and finalized together with
KB and PT. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.
Acknowledgements
HB is grateful to UMCES faculty and members of the UMCES Offshore Wind
focus group for many interesting discussions. KB and PT acknowledge the
facilitation of their collaboration through the Marine Collaboration Research
Forum (MarCRF) in Aberdeen. We thank the many colleagues in academia,
industry and government who informed our understanding of these issues,
and Finlay Bennet, Ian Davies and Nancy McLean for comments that greatly
improved the manuscript. This is Contribution 4956 of the University of
Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.
Author details
1
Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for
Environmental Science, 146 Williams Street, Solomons, MD 20688, USA.
Bailey et al. Aquatic Biosystems 2014, 10:8 Page 10 of 13
http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/content/10/1/8
2
Marine Scotland Science, 375 Victoria Road, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, UK.
3
Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Lighthouse Field Station,
University of Aberdeen, George Street, Cromarty, Ross-shire IV11 8YJ, UK.
Received: 5 February 2014 Accepted: 3 September 2014
Published: 14 September 2014
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doi:10.1186/2046-9063-10-8
Cite this article as: Bailey et al.:Assessing environmental impacts of
offshore wind farms: lessons learned and recommendations for the future.
Aquatic Biosystems 2014 10:8.
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· The coastal and offshore waters of the UK are of global importance for several species of seabirds. The United Nations Law of the Seas and the establishment of Exclusive Economic Zones gives coastal states extensive rights but also obligations over marine areas, including the assessment of potential effects of activities on the marine environment. The Crown Estate, as landowner of the seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit plays an important role in the development of the offshore wind industry by leasing areas of seabed for the placing of turbines. The planned erection of large numbers of offshore wind turbines has underlined our lack of knowledge relating to the distribution, abundance and habitat requirements (foraging ecology) of marine birds. · As part of the Environmental Impact Assessments for offshore wind farms, the need for detailed knowledge on spatial and temporal patterns in seabird distribution has been identified. Dedicated censuses to sample the numbers and distribution of seabirds are a basic requirement for developers, to describe bird densities within, and in the immediate vicinity of, the construction area. Studies performed need to be related to some greater area studies, in order to assess the relative and the actual importance of the construction area for the species involved. · This document evaluates existing census techniques and determine the best currently available methods for defining bird distribution and abundance at sea. The underlying question is twofold: (1) what are the research objectives and what data are required for EIAs for offshore wind farms, and (2) how good are existing census techniques at fulfilling the objectives? · In order to assess the potential impact of the construction of an offshore wind farm and to understand how such a construction is likely to affect the birds associated with a site, dedicated research is required. The coupling of bird census data with geographical, hydrographical, and biological measurements is essential to begin to understand how an offshore construction such as a wind farm is likely to affect an area and how the seabirds associated with a site are most likely to respond. Natural variability issues are addressed and existing census techniques have been evaluated for their potential to provide data that can be used to describe habitat characteristics and area usage by seabirds. · The two observation tools discussed in this study, aerial and ship-based surveys, potentially provide similar data for as far as basic seabird counts are concerned (accurate numbers, accurate maps). Census techniques are similar (distance techniques using parallel bands of known width), but the level of detail for individual species is considerably less during aerial surveys. Aerial surveys are quick, so enabling coverage of larger areas per unit time, and relatively cheap, whereas ship-surveys are more time-consuming. · Data obtained during aerial surveys may be combined with environmental parameters in a correlative approach, whereas the advantage of a ship is that such parameters can often be collected simultaneously. The slower approach with vessels allows detailed observations on seabird behaviour (habitat utilisation, feeding conditions) and diurnal/tidal fluctuations in seabird abundance and distribution. · The acquisition of information about migration routes, direction or height of flight, detailed spatial and temporal distribution require intensive radar and direct observation in the vicinity of a proposed wind farm development to determine bird use of the area and to predict collision impact probabilities under a range of differing temporal (day/night) and weather conditions. Similarly, assessment of actual collision risk and collisions after construction necessitates static measuring devices (such as infra-red movement triggered video surveillance and vibration detection equipment currently under development). However, these tools are not addressed further in this report. http://www.offshorewindfarms.co.uk/Downloads/1352_bird_survey_phase1_final_04_05_06.pdf
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Dow Piniak W. E., Eckert, S. A., Harms, C. A. and Stringer, E. M. 2012. Underwater hearing sensitivity of the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea): Assessing the potential effect of anthropogenic noise. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Headquarters, Herndon, VA. OCS Study BOEM 2012-01156. 35pp. 
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Attention has been drawn to the subject of how ocean noise affects marine mammals by a series of marine mammal strandings, lawsuits, and legislative hearings, and most recently, the report from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. One way to assess the impact of ocean noise is to consider whether it causes changes in animal behavior that are "biologically significant," that is, those that affect an animal's ability to grow, survive, and reproduce. This report offers a conceptual model designed to clarify which marine mammal behaviors are biologically significant for conservation purposes. The report is intended to help scientists and policymakers interpret provisions of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. © 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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A simulation method was developed for identifying populations with levels of human-caused mortality that could lead to depletion, taking into account the uncertainty of available information. A mortality limit (termed the Potential Biological Removal, PBR, under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act) was calculated as the product of a minimum population estimate (N(MIN)), one-half of the maximum net productivity rate (R(MAX)), and a recovery factor (F(R)). Mortality limits were evaluated based on whether at least 95% of the simulated populations met two criteria: (1) that populations starting at the maximum net productivity level (MNPL) stayed there or above after 20 yr, and (2) that populations starting at 30% of carrying-capacity (K) recovered to at least MNPL after 100 yr. Simulations of populations that experienced mortality equal to the PBR indicated that using approximately the 20th percentile (the lower 60% log-normal confidence limit) of the abundance estimate for N(MIN) met the criteria for both cetaceans (assuming R(MAX) = 0.04) and pinnipeds (assuming R(MAX) = 0.12). Additional simulations that included plausible levels of bias in the available information indicated that using a value of 0.5 for F(R) would meet both criteria during these 'bias trials.' It is concluded that any marine mammal population with an estimate of human-caused mortality that is greater than its PBR has a level of mortality that could lead to the depletion of the population. The simulation methods were also used to show how mortality limits could be calculated to meet conservation goals other than the U.S. goal of maintaining populations above MNPL.
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Bat mortality caused by terrestrial wind-power plants has been documented and offshore wind-power developments may have similar effects. Determining which bat species occur offshore, how far they range from shore, and predictors of high activity may be helpful to developers and wildlife managers. We studied bat activity off the mid-Atlantic coast, using ultrasonic detectors mounted on ships in spring and fall 2009 and 2010. We investigated the association between nightly bat activity and weather variables, including wind speed, air temperature, and barometric pressure. Echolocation passes of bats totaled 166; maximum detection distance from shore was 21.9 km, and mean distance was 8.4 km. Most passes were identified as Lasiurus borealis (Eastern Red Bats), representing 78% of bats identified to species or species group. Bat activity decreased as wind speed increased, but activity did not differ with distance from shore. Offshore wind projects proposed for locations beyond the maximum detection distances noted in our study would likely have few impacts on seasonal movements; however, depending on their location and operating protocols, projects closer to shore could result in fatalities similar to those reported at onshore wind facilities.