1) Global‐scale environmental degradation and its links with non‐renewable fossil fuels have led to an increasing interest in generating electricity from renewable energy resources. Much of this interest centres on offshore renewable energy developments (ORED). The large scale of proposed ORED will add to the existing human pressures on coastal ecosystems, therefore any ecological costs and benefits must be determined.
2) The current pressures on coastal ecology set the context within which the potential impacts (both positive and negative) of offshore renewable energy generation are discussed.
3) The number of published peer‐review articles relating to renewable energy has increased dramatically since 1991. Significantly, only a small proportion of these articles relate to environmental impacts and none considers coastal ecology.
4) Actual or potential environmental impact can occur during construction, operation and/or decommissioning of ORED.
5) Construction and decommissioning are likely to cause significant physical disturbance to the local environment. There are both short‐ and long‐term implications for the local biological communities. The significance of any effects is likely to depend on the natural disturbance regime and the stability and resilience of the communities.
6) During day‐to‐day operation, underwater noise, emission of electromagnetic fields and collision or avoidance with the energy structures represent further potential impacts on coastal species, particularly large predators. The wider ecological implications of any direct and indirect effects are discussed.
7) Synthesis and applications. This review demonstrates that offshore renewable energy developments will have direct and, potentially, indirect consequences for coastal ecology, with these effects occurring at different scales. Ecologists should be involved throughout all the phases of an ORED to ensure that appropriate assessments of the interaction of single and multiple developments with the coastal environment are undertaken.