Update work package ‘Ecology’
June 15, 2022
The North Sea Energy program is working on important and exciting changes to our energy landscape, or rather seascape in this case. Besides technical, logistical, societal, legal and governmental challenges, there are also challenges related to the North Sea ecology. Throughout history, our North Sea has undergone several large ecological changes. Some of these originated from naturally occurring phenomena like changes in climate and geology, others have an anthropological cause, like commercial fishing, shipping and resource extraction. Today and in the coming decades, large-scale changes in the North Sea, like the development of offshore wind farms and future energy hubs, are again transforming its seascape.
As with any transition, some might have negative consequences while others may provide opportunities for growth. Some of the energy transition-related changes to the North Sea ecosystem are obvious, like the effects of offshore wind farms on birds. Others are more subtle and more complex to predict, like changes to food availability for marine life due to modifications in oceanographic conditions caused by shifts in currents, nutrient cycling and stratification patterns (stratification is the separation between distinct layers in the water column due to differences in temperature or salinity). Changes to these conditions may impact the North Sea ecosystem in various ways. Some examples are shifts in populations, larval recruitment, breeding, feeding and migratory locations of species, which can have either positive or negative effects (or both).
The effects on marine ecology and marine life are often difficult to measure and even more complex to predict. Nevertheless, much important and relevant research has already been conducted or is being undertaken. Within this phase of the NSE program, Work Package 4 is working on providing an inventory and summary of relevant scientific research to support decision-making for spatial planning and decommissioning scenarios of offshore platforms. We do this by adding ecological layers to the North Sea Energy Atlas and by investigating options to determine the ecological value of existing offshore structures. These results provide a starting point and platform for further investigation into the effects and opportunities for nature.