Marine energy devices harness power from attributes of ocean water to form a sustainable energy source. Knowledge gaps remain about whether marine energy systems can affect the environment, adding another threat to animal populations and habitats already under pressure from climate change and anthropogenic activities. To date, potential environmental effects have been studied under the scope of stressor–receptor interactions, where moving parts of, or emissions from, a system could harm the animals, habitats, and natural processes. While crucial for understanding effects and identifying knowledge gaps, this approach misses a holistic view of what animals may experience in the presence of marine energy systems. We look at six biological consequences and forces that drive the health of an animal population and the effects expected from marine energy development: success of early life stages; changes in competitive capabilities; growth and survival based on food availability; susceptibility to predators; injury or death; and reproductive success. We use case studies to develop this approach, focusing on a variety of marine animals. An approximate level of risk is assigned for each interaction based on the biological consequences. This work highlights the need to examine the effects of marine energy development on animal populations within their natural habitats.