Offshore Wind and Wildlife

Can wind energy development harm wildlife?

Humpback Breach

It's an important question that many of our members and activists ask when they hear about National Wildlife Federation's support of wind energy.

And yes—like any energy developmentif done without proper planning, siting, risk assessment and design, there is a potential for offshore wind to negatively affect wildlife.

National Wildlife Federation believes that offshore wind energy must be located, constructed and operated in a way that does not threaten our coastal and marine wildlife.

It's not an impossible feat. While conditions differ in Europe, offshore wind energy has been developed extensively there, and studies have found no significant or long-term impacts on wildlife in the area.

Wind Energy Key to Protecting Wildlife from Climate Change

Offshore wind energy is a critical part in cutting carbon pollution and reducing the impact of climate change on wildlife.

According to the world’s leading scientists, as many as 30% of species worldwide will face extinction this century if warming trends continue.

To protect wildlife from the dangers of a warming world, we must take appropriate, responsible action to replace as much of our dirty fossil fuel use with clean renewable energy sources. And wind is a key part of that task.

What Wildlife Do We Need to Watch Out For?

Research around how marine life may be impacted by offshore wind development is already in motion, with focus on the the following wildlife:

  • Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles - We know that anthropogenic sound (sound caused by or produced by humans) can temporarily or permanently impair marine mammals’ vitally important ability to process and use sound. More information is needed on potential effects from the noise produced from construction and operation of offshore wind.
  • Marine and Coastal Birds and Bats - Much like onshore wind development, there is the potential for Atlantic offshore wind turbines to impact marine and coastal birds and bats, including millions of migratory birds that traverse the Atlantic Flyway, pelagic species (petrels, shearwaters, etc), and those that nest and winter along the Atlantic Coast. There is some evidence of localized coastal wind turbines placed near tern colonies resulting in a surprisingly high avian mortality rate.

How to Avoid Negative Impacts of Wind on Wildlife

National Wildlife Federation is actively working to help guide the development wildlife-friendly wind energy and make sure the best science is used in making decisions around siting and development.

Ways to avoid impacting wildlife populations include:

  1. Minimize wind siting in biologically sensitive areas, such as shoals, boulder reefs, rocky cobble areas, the mouths of inlets, areas critical to migration, breeding, wintering, or other sensitive life stages needed to sustain healthy populations of wildlife.

  2. Steer projects further offshore, thus helping avoid environmental and other potential conflicts, such as military needs and navigation. In general, avian species abundance and diversity declines further from the shoreline.

  3. Establish comprehensive monitoring programs that support continuous improvement in project development.

  4. Ensure that funds are available to address unavoidable impacts on fish and wildlife, including cumulative impacts.

  5. Consider future shifts in wildlife ranges and other ecological changes that will result from climate change.

  6. Gather information on cumulative impacts and integrate such information into decision-making processes.

  7. Ensure a meaningful opportunity for stakeholders to comment and shape proposals.
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