Wind power is a key form of renewable energy. Within the EU it represents one of the most promising tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and hence diminishing the consequences of climate change.
The offshore wind energy sector has been expanding since 1991 when the first OWF was built, and today it is full of potential. However, the rapid increase of the OWF sector is raising concerns over its effects on marine wildlife: research in pioneer countries has shown that offshore wind development has potential negative impacts on the surrounding environment.
In addition, the expansion of the OWF sector adds to spatial competition with other economic sectors (e.g. fisheries) in an already busy seascape. Some ecological interests may conflict with other nature conservation targets.
Meanwhile, the role of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is becoming more important all the time: in recent years they have been increasing in number and area covered, as the global community aims to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020 and a larger proportion by 2030. As key tools for protecting marine biodiversity and ecosystems, it’s essential that their relation to activities such as OWFs is well defined. This report provides recommendations to support public authorities, MPA managers and the OWF business sector in working together to minimize the environmental impacts of OWF development.
Decision-making processes regarding future locations for OWFs should take into account conservation objectives, and aim to avoid ecologically valuable and protected areas. Ecosystem-based marine spatial planning (MSP) and strategic environmental assessments (SEA) should as far as possible ensure that OWFs are not deployed in areas that contain habitats, species and/or ecological processes that are particularly sensitive to its impacts, whether during construction or operation. Active cross-sectoral participation is essential for successful MSP that ensures both marine wildlife conservation and the sustainable development of OWFs in the Mediterranean. In countries where renewables have already been deployed in MPAs, or which are at the planning and assessment stage, the environmental impacts of each development should be robustly scrutinized on a case-by-case basis under relevant nature conservation legislation. A precautionary approach should be taken, to ensure that site conservation objectives are met.
Compared to other industries, the construction and operation of OWFs is relatively well studied in terms of marine conservation concerns. Lessons learned in northern Europe show that efficient mitigation measures for key pressures do exist, and they have been highly successful in reducing adverse effects on marine wildlife.
However, knowledge gained from pioneer countries can only be partially applied to OWF development in the Mediterranean Sea, since the region has its own set of unique characteristics. With this in mind it’s crucial that research and monitoring programmes, tailored to the specific conditions of the Mediterranean marine environment, are developed.