Wind farms are a great source of energy. In the past, however, they have had a complicated relationship with wildlife. Yet, wind farms among British and German waters have recently been beneficial for marine creatures like harbor seals
A study conducted over the past few years suggests that offshore wind farms are feeding grounds for harbor seals. They attract various kinds of crustaceans and fish which, in turn, draws harbor seals.
This accumulation is due to the “reef effect,” according to Dr. Deborah Russell, a research fellow at the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St. Andrews and lead researcher in the study. “Things like barnacles and mussels will settle on hard structures and then that in turn will attract other marine species and it builds up over time,” she said.
To study the behavior of harbor seals, researchers compiled data from GPS tags. Funded in part by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, they were able to track the movements of the seals in the North Sea beginning in 2008. The researchers found that 11 harbor seals consistently visited two particular wind farms–Sheringham Shoal, located off the British coast, and Alpha Ventus, located off the German Coast. “I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” said Dr. Russell.
In the long run, scientists don't know if these structures will hurt or help the environment. As Dr Russell put it: “The study only considered the effect on marine mammals during the operational stage of wind farms. It is during the construction phase that wind farms are predicted to have the most dramatic negative effect on marine mammals.”