Wageningen Marine Research Institute is a part of the wider Wageningen University and Research centre. The marine institute conducts independent scientific research and provides contributions and advice on marine monitoring, spatial planning, sustainable marine exploitation, fisheries and nature-based solutions to climate change. They aim to work towards the more sustainable and careful management, use and protection of marine, coastal and freshwater environments.
The authors were concerned with the planned large-scale development of offshore wind farms (OFW) in the North Sea and the potential impacts this loss of habitat may have on seabird populations. Using five study species (red throated divers, northern gannets, sandwich terns, razorbills and common guillemots) they attempted to determine the significance of areas planned for development of OFW to these populations, the fraction of the population to be impacted, the degree of displacement by OWF, the cost of habitat loss and the population consequences that may result from this. In order to calculate the ‘cost’ of habitat loss, authors needed information on seabed habitats for the areas currently occupied by the study species, as well as for areas where OWF development has been proposed.
EMODnet Seabed Habitats' EUSeaMap 2016 provided data on habitat types throughout the North Sea. By use of the EUSeaMap, authors were able to derive sediment types from the habitats classified according to the EUNIS system, thereby simplifying the information available to meet their specific needs. EUNIS habitats were classified into sediment classes, which then fed into a habitat suitability model for five North Sea seabird species. Authors could then use the model outputs to calculate a predictive ‘cost’ of habitat loss, in terms of the time lost and/or energy expended by birds. These results could then be used to assess the potential impact of habitat loss as a result of offshore developments on overall species populations.
Through a comprehensive assessment of the potential impacts on seabird habitats in the North Sea, researchers were able to predict that the development of offshore windfarms was unlikely to cause populations of any of the study species to decline. This work aims to reduce the need for OWF developers to rely purely on the precautionary approach in their assessments of ecological impacts, by providing more robust models to indicate potential effects.