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New research examines risk of large marine animal entanglement in marine renewable energy moorings

New guidance to protect large marine animals from UK marine renewable energy development has been put forward in a ground-breaking new report

The report examines the likelihood of whales, basking sharks and other large animals becoming entangled in marine renewable mooring systems.

The collaborative report, carried out by the University of Exeter and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, suggests moorings are likely to pose a ‘relatively modest risk’ to marine animals - particularly when compared to the risk posed by some fishing activities.

In response, the report provides a series of recommendations for the industry to reduce entanglement risks, including encouraging developers to follow a risk assessment process when submitting a development proposal, and providing details of both existing and planned routine inspection regimes involving moorings.

Professor Lars Johanning, from the University’s Renewable Energy department based at the Penryn Campus, Cornwall, said: “As identified within a report published by DECC wave and tidal energy combined has the potential to deliver around 20 per cent of the UK’s current electricity needs which equates to an installed capacity of around 30 – 50GW. In order to allow the extraction of this energy to be sustainable and with minimum impact environmental impact studies are essential, and this interdisciplinary study has provided further insight into the relative risk of typical mooring configurations.

The global marine renewable energy (MRE) industry, which includes offshore wind, wave and tidal energy, is developing rapidly.  As increasing numbers of devices are set to be deployed, concerns have been raised over potential environmental impacts, including the risk of ‘marine megafauna’ – such as whales and basking sharks - becoming entangled in mooring systems and associated power cables.

The new report set out to review existing information on entanglement risks to marine megafauna posed by moorings.  It identified some circumstances where moorings associated with Marine Renewable Energy devices could potentially pose a risk, including if derelict fishing gears become attached to the mooring and so posing an entanglement risk for a wide range of species including fish and diving seabirds.

The report was commissioned by the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Ron Macdonald, the SNH director of policy and advice, said: “Our role is to provide information and advice to developers and consenting authorities on potential impacts of marine energy installations and how these impacts might be avoided or minimised. In order to do this, we need to have the best available research to refer to. That’s why we commissioned this work.”

Date: 12 September 2014

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