Preparing for offshore renewable energy development in the Mediterranean
MetadataShow full item record
The development of offshore wind farms and marine renewable energy devices in the Mediterranean is central to both national, and international, energy strategies for countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The ecological impacts of marine renewable energy development in the Mediterranean region, although essential for policy makers, are as yet unknown. The Northern Adriatic is identified as a plausible site for offshore wind farm development. Using the wider region (Adriatic and Northern Ionian) as a case study, this thesis examines the likely impact to the marine environment if an offshore wind farm is established. Site suitability, based on wind speed, bathymetry, and larvae connectivity levels are investigated along with the plausibility of the turbines operating as artificial reefs in the area. As offshore wind farms may alter the larval connectivity and supply dynamics of benthic populations, a connectivity map was constructed to identify areas of high and low connectivity in the Adriatic Sea. The Puglia coast of Italy is a likely larval sink, and displays some of the highest connectivity within the region, suggesting potential inputs of genetic materials from surrounding populations. Considering offshore wind farms could operate as artificial reefs, an in-situ pilot project was established to simulate the presence of wind turbines. Macroinvertebrates colonized the new substrata within the first few months but were lower in abundance when compared to a natural hard substrata environment. Time, turbine location, and the material used for turbine construction all affected the macro-invertebrate communities. In addition, fish abundances, and diversity were lower around the simulated OWF foundations in comparison to a natural hard substrata environment, and no increases in fish abundance occurred around the simulated turbines when compared to reference sites of soft substrata. This observation was validated with the use of an ecosystem modelling software (Ecopath with Ecosim), which simulated the overall ecosystem level impacts that would occur if 50 offshore monopile wind turbines were introduced to the Northern Ionian and colonized by macroinvertebrate communities. When compared to the baseline scenario (no simulated introduction of an OWF), the introduction of new habitat had no discernible impacts to the structure or functioning of the marine ecosystem. Noticeable changes to the ecosystem were only apparent if fishing restrictions were enforced in parallel with the simulated offshore wind farm; the ecosystem appears to become more structured by top down predation. In addition seabirds are also impacted by the reduction of fishing discards as a food source. These results are the first attempt to quantify the suspected benefits of offshore wind farms operating as de-facto marine protected areas.