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Orkney's EMEC marine energy centre begins tests to examine marine mammal impact

By Calum MacLeod

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EMEC staff carrying out an acoustic survey.
EMEC staff carrying out an acoustic survey.

World-leading renewable energy pioneer, European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney, is to carry out a series of tests to assess the potential impact of marine renewable developments on local species and habitats.

EMEC will deploy a series of acoustic surveys over the summer designed to monitor noise levels of marine energy technologies at its ocean energy test sites in Orkney.

The acoustic survey programme will monitor the wave energy converters demonstrated by Mocean Energy and AWS Ocean Energy at EMEC’s Scapa Flow scale wave energy test site, and the tidal energy technologies demonstrated by Orbital Marine Power and Magallanes Renovables at EMEC’s Fall of Warness tidal energy site, close to the islands of Eday.

EMEC will deploy static and drifting hydrophones (underwater microphones) to monitor the acoustic signature of the devices during operation. This will be compared to baseline data collected prior to technologies being present on site.

Marine mammals use a wide band of acoustic frequencies to navigate and communicate. The survey will help establish whether exposure to noise from technologies could result in behavioural changes such as displacement from key habitats, or disturbance at breeding, foraging or social sites.

By measuring the acoustic noise of renewable devices, EMEC, developers and regulators can better understand what noise is emitted, any potential impacts on marine life, and consider mitigations, as necessary. This in turn should ease future permitting of devices as regulators also gain a better understanding of the impact of ocean energy on the environment.

Donald Leaver, environment and consents officer at EMEC, said: “EMEC is at the forefront of monitoring and collecting data for environmental assessments for wave and tidal energy. The sector is determined to find new renewable energy solutions to help combat climate change so it’s vital that we understand how new technologies may impact marine life to mitigate any potential impacts. Acoustic monitoring will also give confidence to regulators when consenting technologies supporting the continued development of the sector.”

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