Offshore wind farms seem to have a benefit other than producing green energy - they provide artificial reefs for seals and other marine life.
According to a study published in Current Biology, offshore wind farms serve as artificial reefs, which provide safe haven (and hunting grounds) for seals. University of St. Andrews’ Deborah Russel and a team of researchers made this discovery after tagging over 100 Harbor and Grey Seals off the British and Dutch coasts. Using GPS data, it was revealed that a number of the seals regularly visited two wind farms in the areas around Germany and England.
Moving from turbine to turbine, the seals search out fish in a grid-like pattern. “I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” Russell recalled. “You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”
The seals also seem to be attracted to ocean pipelines, where they’ll often follow the series of pipes for a number of days, hunting as they swim. While only a small number of seals have been observed using wind farms and pipes as hunting grounds, current offshore wind farms only cover a tiny portion of the ocean. Russel’s team is currently trying to determine if the growing number of offshore wind farms will cause issues for marine populations in the future. There is worry that the wind farms will increase the number of prey species, as various fish, etc. flock to these artificial reefs and breed. If that turns out to not be true, and the prey species instead just concentrate in the areas around the wind farms (without a growth in population), it could still have negative consequences. Ocean life would then not be spread out across the ocean, and become vulnerable to being easily targeted by predators in these areas.
Image: Current Biology, Russell et al