Preliminary findings of a study conducted by biologists at the University of Liverpool reveal that proposed offshore wind turbine developments in the English Channel could potentially have a negative impact on the foraging behaviour of northern gannets originating from colonies on Alderney, Channel Islands.
The research team, consisting of a team of biologists from the University of Liverpool, the British Trust for Ornithology and Alderney Wildlife Trust, supported by funding provided by the Alderney Commission for Renewable Energy, tracked fifteen northern gannets from a breeding colony situated on Les Etacs, Alderney, using GPS tracking devices. The aim was to determine their foraging habits, where there main feeding grounds were situated, and their travel routes, to ascertain whether the proposed offshore energy developments by both French and English companies could potentially have a negative effect on this species.
Flight Paths and Foraging Habits
The researchers found that while the gannets generally fly in the same direction and travel the same distance, the time spent searching for food varied significantly. This leads the researchers to believe that individual birds don’t rely on specific foraging sites.
“We found that the area where the gannets travelled for food overlapped with nine sites earmarked for offshore marine energy developments which suggests that the feeding habits of these birds could be affected, as well as the potential for collision with wind turbine developments. These sites also fell across three different territorial waters – in the UK, France and the Channel Islands – which has implications for international collaboration and cooperation,” said Louis Soanes, from University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences.
Rush for Renewable Energy Sources
To comply with EU directives, which stipulate that European countries must acquire 20% of their energy from renewable energy sources by 2020, many countries are pressing ahead with plans to develop offshore wind farms, together with developments to harness power from waves and tidal sources to meet these targets. While any proposed offshore development has to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to determine and measure and assess potential environmental effects that the development may have, these assessments typically include aerial surveys or boat-based monitoring, but are not compelled to used GPS tracking methods. Soanes feels that this is a major flaw in the EIA process, “GPS technology is becoming cheaper, longer lasting, more accurate and easier to use on a wide range of species. Our work highlighted the important role tracking technologies can play in determining how sea bird colonies would be affected by offshore developments and we recommend that they become an integral part of the Environmental Impact Assessment for marine renewable developments.”
The research team plans on expanding on these preliminary findings, with a follow-on study. The next phase of this study will look at how important these areas are to the gannets and what exactly they use them for, which will offer insights into how these offshore developments may impact this gannet population.