BirdWatch Ireland to carry out research on the impact of offshore energy projects on Marine Birds

Published by Dave Brooks on

February 29th, 2016

BirdWatch Ireland will shortly begin research to assess the potential impact that offshore renewable energy projects would have on seabirds and coastal water birds. The study precedes a boost in development of Ireland’s indigenous ocean energy industry, after the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland awarded €4.3 million in grants to various groups working in this field.

As part of this project, the organisation will develop a ‘Bird Sensitivity Map’ to inform energy companies of zones that pose a high risk to sea birds and ecosystems. “We have produced bird sensitivity maps for land-based energy projects in the past, but there is much less information available for marine environments. We will be carrying out a scoping phase of work for all Irish waters, consisting of desk-based research. A separate body of work is looking at how best to start to address some of the information gaps and that involves field work, carrying out bird tagging”, commented Siobhán Egan of BirdWatch Ireland.

Bar-tailed Godwit

In the fieldwork phase of the project, they will deploy GPS tags on both native and winter migratory birds on the east coast to gather data regarding patterns in their movement. “This is the first time that GPS will have been used at this scale in Ireland and it will extend our knowledge beyond breeding colonies and wintering sites”, said Olivia Crowe, a conservation officer at BirdWatch Ireland who will be involved with the field work. “As of yet we are unsure what the most at-risk species are, but many gulls and terns fly at the heights of typical offshore wind turbines, so we will certainly be tagging some of them. And the movements of wintering wading species like Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit between estuaries as the season progresses is something that we will be looking at”.

At an international conference for Ocean Energy held this week in Edinburgh, Declan Meally, Head of Emerging Sectors at the SEAI, said that “the objective of attending this major event is to attract investors and interested parties to Ireland’s growing ocean energy sector”. Indeed, with a sea area around ten times our land mass, the development of this sector could contribute greatly to our energy security and to reducing our emissions associated with energy generation. Meally continued: “We want to show that Ireland is committed to harnessing its abundant wave, tidal and offshore wind energy resources in an environmentally sustainable manner”.

Reflecting on the need for sensitivity in matters of energy infrastructure planning, Siobhán Egan added: “It is important to make informed decisions as to where to put this infrastructure. We have climate objectives as well as wildlife objectives, and it’s important that we address both”.

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Dave Brooks

Dave works as Communication Assistant with the Environmental Pillar. His background is in psychology and he has a masters in Environmental Psychology from the University of Surrey.