Natural Resources Wales (NRW), working with a team led by SMRU Consulting and including other experts from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences (SAMS) have recently published a new set of guidance on marine mammal surveying requirements at wave and tidal stream energy sites in Wales.

This report, published today and available here, provides a framework for assessing risk to marine mammals from wave and tidal stream developments and guidance on how to tailor survey effort to provide better information to inform impact assessments.

Over the next five years, more than €100 million of EU structural funds have been prioritised for the marine energy sector in Wales.  Two wave and tidal stream ‘Demonstration Zones’, along with seabed lease agreements for four further developments, position Wales to play a leading role in marine energy.  However, these new renewable energy technologies present industry, regulators and advisors with a challenge to assess their environmental impacts, including the potential effects on marine mammals.

Welsh waters are home to a number of species of marine mammals including bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise, and grey seal, all of which are protected under European legislation, and which includes the provision of Special Areas of Conservation.  For the marine energy sector, a key challenge is the uncertainty about how these protected species might interact with wave and tidal stream devices.  For example they could be struck by moving parts, or be disturbed from sea areas where devices are located.  It can be difficult in the face of this uncertainty to plan what information is needed to assess the possible impacts of such developments on marine mammals, or to decide on how to reduce or remove any effects. However obtaining information, often through ‘pre-application’ survey work, to enable this assessment is necessary before development consents or licences can be issued.

There is a growing consensus among regulators, statutory nature conservation advisors, developers and their environmental consultants that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to gathering data to inform impact assessment and consenting processes for proposed wave and tidal stream energy developments is not suitable.  Traditional approaches, such as those used for large offshore wind projects may not be appropriate for smaller and more physically challenging wave and tidal stream energy sites and may not result in data of good enough quality to be useful in assessing environmental impacts.

With this in mind, NRW, SMRU Consulting, SMRU and SAMS have developed an approach to tailor ‘pre-application’ surveys to:

a) take into account existing information on marine mammals and the current understanding of the possible impacts of wave and tidal stream technologies,

b) provide information in relation to the particular types of impacts posed by technologies and

c) be proportionate to the likely degree of risk of significant impacts to marine mammals posed by the proposed development.

Dr. Carol Sparling from SMRU Consulting, who led the effort alongside the NRW team said:

This new guidance will allow developers to take a proportionate and robust approach to the gathering of data required to underpin their environmental assessments to assure the safety of local sea mammal populations.

This guidance will also allow developers to focus on specific risks presented by individual projects rather than the existing ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The comprehensive report is broken down into a series of sections spanning the following topics, delivering NRW’s guidance on each:

  • Summary of the legislative background to the requirement for ‘pre-application’ data gathering on marine mammals for proposed wave and tidal stream energy developments;
  • An overview of the information requirements for wave and tidal stream energy developments relating to key marine mammal impact pathways;
  • A step-by-step guide for an initial ‘rapid assessment’ of risk of wave and tidal stream energy developments to assist in determining any ‘pre-application’ survey requirements;
  • A detailed presentation of the range of marine mammal survey methodologies likely to provide the information required to inform impact assessment;
  • Recommendations for future needs to refine these processes.

The step-by step guide helps provide a ‘roadmap’ for making decisions about the need for, and type of, pre-application surveys. The process is similar in principle to the Scottish Government’s draft Survey, Deploy and Monitor policy but has been developed for a more detailed consideration of marine mammals and also provides information on the type of survey that may be useful to inform environmental assessment procedures (such as Environmental Impact Assessments and Habitat Regulations Appraisals).

Kate Smith, Marine Renewable Energy Advisor at NRW said:

“We will be encouraging industry to work with us to follow the guidance outlined in this report, to determine any marine mammal survey needs for proposed wave and tidal stream energy developments.  This should help ensure that developers are in a position to make well-informed decisions about options for marine mammal survey and data to inform environmental assessments, consent decisions and any measures to reduce or remove the effects of their technologies on marine mammals.  It will also help regulators and advisors ensure that their advice and consent decisions are proportionate and appropriate to the ‘riskiness of the project.”

Ceri Morris, Marine Mammal Specialist at NRW said:

“It is our duty to ensure that marine mammals such as dolphins, porpoises and seals in Wales are protected. This new guidance will give us more confidence that we have the best available information on marine mammal distribution –  and help us to understand how animals may interact with wave and tidal devices to inform our advice.”

The full report is available here.

 

SMRU Consulting have been involved in creating industry guidance in previous projects. Check out our experience: