Improving environmental monitoring around tidal energy devices!

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Improving environmental monitoring around tidal energy devices!

We are proud to announce the release of a new report on the innovative new technology we have developed and tested for the fine scale underwater movements of marine mammals in the vicinity of marine tidal energy devices.

The Scottish Government has set targets for renewable energy, and with Scotland having an estimated 25% of Europe’s tidal resource, a portion this target is expected to come from tidal energy. However, current uncertainty about the potential effects that tidal turbines have on seals, dolphins and porpoises remains a key issue.

To help understand these potential impacts, scientists at the Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews, in collaboration with their consulting arm, SMRU Consulting, have published the results of a major Scottish Government funded study. This study developed and tested innovative new technology for the detection and measurement of marine mammal behaviour around tidal turbines.

The project has developed monitoring systems which are capable of the detection and tracking of seals, porpoises and dolphins underwater in three dimensions. This will help to understand the behaviour of animals in close proximity to tidal turbines and their potential to avoid collisions with these structures. Underwater microphone systems, which pick up the natural sounds that animals make, have been developed which will allow the clicks and whistles of harbour porpoises and dolphins to be detected and tracked in 3D from a seabed mounted platform.

However, these listening systems will not detect species that are silent or make sounds only infrequently (e.g. seals, whales, basking sharks). Underwater sonar systems can image marine mammals and provide a basis for detection and tracking of seals, whales and basking sharks.  In this project, a novel sonar technique that allows tracking of marine mammals in 3D was developed and tested, and software was developed to automatically identify marine mammals in sonar images to distinguish them from other things such as fish or marine debris.

This project was funded as part of the Scottish Government’s demonstration strategy which is a strategic research programme addressing the various issues and challenges of developing offshore and marine renewables. The demonstration strategy is a component of the Marine Scotland Survey, Deploy and Monitor approach to reducing the environmental uncertainty in the consenting of renewable energy developments in Scottish waters. Information on priority environmental interactions, such as those with marine mammals, will be obtained and used to inform the consenting of future developments.

The next phase of this project will see the technology as part of this project deployed at Phase 1a of MeyGen’s Inner Sound project in the Pentland Firth later this year. This will provide a tailored monitoring system for understanding the behaviour of marine mammals around operating tidal turbines and will enable data to be collected that will refine estimates of collision risk.

Carol Sparling, SMRU Consulting’s Technical Director and the manager of this project, said:

“This has been an interesting, yet challenging project to develop over the past 18 months. The team have achieved significant advances in methodology and provided the tool kit required to reduce future uncertainty.”

Ed Rollings, MeyGen Environmental Consents manager, said:

“We are very excited to be collaborating on this project with the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Scottish Government and are happy that our site will be the first real demonstration of this technology. We anticipate that this project will provide the key information required to allow us to scale up our array in the Inner Sound.”

George Lees, Scottish Natural Heritage, said:

“This project represents an important step in our understanding of collision risk between marine mammals and tidal turbines. It will be exciting to see how the kit performs once in the Inner Sound, and to start capturing the first details of mammal response to turbine deployment.”

The tracks of a series of targets detected during the deployment of the multibeam sonar on the HiCUP in Kyle Rhea. The image shows the tracks of targets that were confirmed as seals (blue points) and harbour porpoises (yellow points) through visual observations of animals made from the boat.

The tracks of a series of targets detected during the deployment of the multibeam sonar on the HiCUP in Kyle Rhea. The image shows the tracks of targets that were confirmed as seals (blue points) and harbour porpoises (yellow points) through visual observations of animals made from the boat.


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About the Author:

Rachael is an Associate Scientist at SMRU Consulting Europe. Check out her bio under the "About Us" tab.

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