Wave energy has the potential to contribute considerably to the UK’s energy mix. The marine environment is already subjected to many anthropogenic pressures. There is a need to develop the industry as sustainably as possible. A key concern is the potential for underwater noise to affect marine life.
A wave energy converter (WEC; BOLT Lifesaver, Fred Olsen Ltd.) was deployed at the Falmouth Bay marine renewable energy test site (FaBTest). The underwater sound levels were recorded at this site for a two week baseline period, a five-day installation period and intermittent operational and non-operational activity from March 2012 - November 2013. The recordings were also analysed for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) indicator third octave bands of 63-Hz and 125-Hz for shipping noise.
The median and modal sound levels in Falmouth Bay were found to be loudest in the frequency range 100 Hz - 1 kHz and affected by local shipping activity.
During installation activity, the sound levels were louder at all frequencies recorded as compared to similar periods with no installation activity, with a mean difference of 6.9 dB Hz-1 in the range 10 Hz to 48 kHz. Long term marine renewable energy construction projects may affect the MSFD indicator bands.
There was little overall difference in the average sound levels for the operational and non-operational periods as the median PSD levels were louder by an average of 0.04 dB Hz-1 during the operational activity as compared to the non-operational activity.
The results of this study indicate that the effect of a single WEC device on the overall sound levels in Falmouth Bay is relatively low considering the substantial presence of shipping in the area. However, in the immediate vicinity of the device (<200 m), the sound produced was found to be of significance to marine animals. It therefore requires considering in future deployments, particularly at a site with little anthropogenic activity