Research carried out at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) supports recent work completed elsewhere that suggests seabird populations need not be adversely affected by offshore windfarms.
Published in April 2018, the Bird Collision Avoidance Study suggested that seabird movement is much less affected by offshore windfarms than was believed and that collisions with turbines occur less frequently than was thought. The study from the Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme claimed to be the world’s most comprehensive investigation into seabird behaviour and collision risk around offshore windfarms.
Now, work carried out by NTNU scientist Signe Christensen-Dalsgaard seems to support those findings. Her work found that if carefully sited and considered on a case-by-case basis, bird species should not be affected by offshore windfarms.
She used GPS to track seabirds, including species that have been in decline in recent years, such as kittiwakes. For the time being, researchers are not sure why their numbers are declining, but her research suggests offshore wind will not play a significant role in their decline or that of other species.
In her doctoral dissertation at NTNU, Ms Christensen-Dalsgaard studied the kittiwake and common shag species, observing where they travel and find food, what they eat and how this affects their reproduction. Her findings provide insights on how offshore wind power can be combined with good seabird management.
Scientists know a lot about seabirds while they reside in their nesting colonies. There it is easy to record what they are doing. But when the birds are out searching for food, they are out of sight. “Before now we haven’t known where they go or what they do,” Ms Christensen-Dalsgaard said. “Understanding the birds’ travels in time and space is important in order to understand why populations change and to assess any conflict between seabirds and human activity.”
She used GPS trackers attached to birds to follow them and see where birds go when they leave their colonies and determine where important feeding areas are. After a few days, she recaptured the birds and removed the GPS trackers. The information from the GPS was downloaded to the computer. She did this for four summers in order to acquire enough data on the birds’ behaviour.
“The birds do different things in the course of a season and in different years, so it’s important to follow a certain number of birds over a certain length of time,” she said.
She concluded in her doctoral thesis that it is possible to predict the areas that are important for nesting seabirds that are therefore important to protect from human intervention such as offshore wind. She also found that the species she studied were flexible as to where they got their food and had the ability to switch between different feeding areas when available. “This makes them adaptable to changes in the marine environment as long as they have access to alternative feeding grounds,” she said.
“So, for the two seabird species I studied, the results show that given thoughtful, knowledge-based management of marine areas, we can establish offshore wind without serious damage to their populations.”
However, she stressed that it is important to think about and investigate the location of windfarms and adopt a case-by-case approach.