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Study into effects of tidal turbines on wildlife

by Alan Harten
March 6, 2009

Turbines powered by tidal flows will be studied to establish their effect on protected marine creatures such as dolphins, whales and basking sharks.

Such research may help prevent the opposition to tidal power, which has delayed and hampered wind turbine schemes.

Tidal power is a recent development and so not much is known about its effect, on sea wildlife.

The RSPB strongly challenged a wind turbine farm on Lewis, which is safeguarded by European law, arguing that protected species could suffer from collisions and habitat intrusions.

The Scottish Government rejected the scheme over six years from first being proposed.

This three-year study will be done by a partnership of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Scot Mathieson, of SEPA said a reliable scientific foundation is needed to consider the possible effect of these schemes on the environment.

This study ought to aid the experts involved make sound decisions on renewable energy schemes overall and individual projects.

George Lees, for SNH, said that Scotland’s renewable energy projects should be exploited for the environmental benefits they will bring, including marine.

However, it is important to acknowledge international environmental protection laws.

New research will help in facilitating both aims.

The development of infrastructure for renewable energy in Scotland is part of the government’s plan to increase employment and reduce CO2 emissions.

The study will be carried out as a PhD thesis at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

It will examine in detail whether sea mammals can detect noise from the turbines, so they can avoid colliding with them.

Dr Ben Wilson, a Marine ecologist, will be overseeing the study.

He said this is an exhilarating chance to assist the use of energy from the sea, as well as species preservation.

The results will enable the developments of turbines with the least impact on wildlife.

In case the study reveals potential risks from the turbines, project companies may need to change the design or locate the machines far from regions with high populations of protected mammals to cut collision risks.

Richard Lochhead, Secretary for the Environment, said this study would increase understanding of the effects of marine turbines on wildlife underwater and enable, the exploitation of the sea’s major capability to create renewable power.

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