A North Sea wind farm may be beneficial to wildlife while producing clean energy for humans. The wind farm created new marine habitat as well as a sanctuary from shipping traffic, said researchers studying the offshore wind farm near Egmond aan Zee off the coast of the Netherlands.

The wind farm also did not create a serious hazard for birds. The 36 turbine wind farm is located far enough off the Dutch coast that coastal bird fly-through is minimal compared to other locations. The researchers said they didn’t observe many bird strikes, and calculated that the overall number of bird deaths is probably low.

Though some bird species avoided the area, others were unaffected or even more numerous. Gannets, for example were not plentiful, but cormorants abounded. Seagull population numbers weren’t affected. The researchers suggest in the paper’s conclusions that the placement of future wind farms should take bird travel patterns into account.

Initially, the wind farm likely caused damage to the ecosystem on the seafloor during construction of the massive foundations for the 180 foot (55 meters) tall turbines, noted the researchers from Wageningen University, Bureau Waardenburg and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).

But they believe in the long run the foundation is beneficial since it now provides rocky shelters and other habitat for seafloor animals, such as mussels, anemones, and crabs.

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Cod and other marine life may be congregating near the wind farm to feast, and to avoid the stress of the dangerous and noisy shipping lanes that surround the wind farm.

The researchers believe the higher numbers of porpoises heard in the area may result from the shipping-free sanctuary created by the wind farm.

The wind farm also serves as a marine preserve since commercial fishing is not present around the turbines.

The research was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Although published in a peer reviewed journal, it should be noted that the research was funded by NoordzeeWind, a joint venture of Nuon and Shell Wind Energy. Nuon is a Dutch energy company serving the Netherlands and Belgium. Shell is an energy company that derives most of it’s profits from fossil fuels.

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Interestingly, even though the research was partly funded by Shell, a company with a checkered history in environmental protection and human rights issues, such as their activities in Nigeria, the researchers didn’t shy away from using the term “Anthropocene” to refer to the current era. The Anthropocene Era is a proposed designation for the current period in Earth’s geologic history in which the natural processes of the planet are influenced or even dominated by human activities.

“The same holds for the North Sea, where extensive fishing pressure, pollution, sand, oil and gas extraction, and shipping have already resulted in a changed ecosystem,” said the paper.

Wind farms will influence the ecosystem of the North Sea as well, but by designating less sensitive areas for the turbines, their negative impact can be minimized, concluded the researchers. The increase in habitat and biodiversity can even make them beneficial to ocean life.

IMAGE 1: The Egmond aan Zee wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. (Wikimedia Commons)