In the most recent multi-annual cycle of the Working Group on Marine Benthal and Renewable Energy Developments (WGMBRED), three meetings were held: 14–18 March 2016, Delft, the Netherlands (22 experts); 6–10 March 2017, Gdynia, Poland (19 experts); and 6–9 March 2018, Galway, Ireland (15 experts).
Our focus throughout has been on addressing the ‘So what?’ question in relation to the interaction between marine renewable energy developments and the benthic ecosystem. The main themes which WGMBRED captured under the Terms of References during the annual meetings and intersessionally focused on understanding the importance of the benthic ecosystem interacting with marine renewable energy developments and ensuring effective communication of scientific findings from the group. The main topics covered were:
- spatial and temporal scale (e.g. the interaction between a device and the benthic species, how these changes could occur at the scale of an array or over larger scales of defined regions/over time);
- the extent of knowledge available (leading to an understanding of the causeeffect pathways between benthos and marine renewable energy devices and developments) in order to identify gaps in knowledge;
- development of indicators to measure the effects arising;
- understanding how effective the benthic ecologists working on the interactions between the benthal and marine renewables were able to cascade these scientific messages.
The WGMBRED has made significant progress towards meeting the group’s Terms of Reference and also our own professional and personal aspirations in communicating that the benthos is a vital part of our marine ecosystems and must be considered in the context of the industrial expansion of marine renewable energy developments. During the three years’ work the group has adapted the focus of our activities to more effectively address our objectives in light of our analysis and new knowledge. Some of the topics proved highly complex and require further research. To convey this message several written reviews have helped to summarise the existing knowledge base (across different marine energy device types), and group members have also attended and presented at numerous international conferences and workshops. The specific outputs coming from meeting the Terms of Reference will be useful to inform the advisory process (and licencing) as they are directly linked to the marine renewable energy sector and the ecosystem based management that is being promoted across the ICES region.
The activities of the WG will assist ICES towards a structural and functional understanding of how the marine benthic system associated with marine renewable energy devices contributes to the functioning of the marine ecosystem, and how they can act as areas where benthic biodiversity can potentially be promoted. There is evidently a future need for the WG and a further multi-annual cycle with new co-chairs has been proposed to ICES secretariat. The new objectives to be addressed by this group are considered of high relevance in the context of ecosystem-based management of coastal areas where an increasing number or marine renewable energy devices are planned. There will be direct knowledge gained to support marine spatial planning initiatives. Hence, the activities of WGMBRED can be considered to be of direct benefit and very high priority for several EGs.
The WGMBRED has worked well with a constant and active membership of experts and representatives of various countries. During 2016–2018, we have produced some significant outputs (with plans to meet all our outstanding deliverables by the end of 2018).
When considering the future, the offshore renewable industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace with expansion across the world. In addition there are upcoming ideas of multiple use of energy device arrays (e.g. for energy generation and food supply via aquaculture), as well as developments of new technologies in countries where no marine renewable energy devices have been installed before. There are several topics which have not been explored yet in this context which cause uncertainty of the potential effects of these evolving new topics and technologies and inconsistent legislation frameworks between countries. Thus, the WGMBRED expertise contributes to the determination of these effects strategies that are as important now as well as in the near future.
A new set of Terms of Reference supported unanimously by all the members to continue with new co-chairs, gives us confidence to propose to ICES that WGMBRED will successfully continue for three more years. With the growing interest in marine renewable energy developments we believe that the activity of the WG will be of key importance for ICES in the event that they need to advise on marine renewable energy developments in relation to the benthic ecosystem.