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SeaGen tidal turbine gets environmental 'thumbs up'

SeaGen tidal turbine from Marine Current Turbines Ltd (MCT), located in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough, has been found not to have any major impact on the Lough’s marine life.

By Kari Williamson

The conclusion was drawn in a report prepared by the environmental consultancy Royal Haskoning, in collaboration with an independent science group, comprising representatives of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Queen’s University Belfast, the Sea Mammal Research Unit and others.

The Royal Haskoning report, prepared on behalf of MCT, covers the outcomes of the Environmental Monitoring Programme (EMP) that commenced in 2005, before the SeaGen tidal turbine’s deployment and its start of operation in 2008.

Conclusions include:

  • No major impacts have been detected from any of the monitoring programmes;
  • There have been no changes in abundance of either seals or porpoises detected which can be attributed to the tidal turbine; seals and porpoises are continuing to swim past SeaGen, demonstrating a lack of any concern or hindrance.

The only changes observed after three years of operation of the tidal turbine have been relatively small scale changes in the behaviour and distribution of seals and harbour porpoises, which suggests a minor degree of local avoidance of the SeaGen tidal turbine.

The benthic ecology (seabed life) was also monitored as part of the EMP, using divers. The EMP concluded that the seabed life surrounding SeaGen’s foundations has recovered since the tidal turbine's installation in 2008.

In addition, the EMP has showed no evidence of significant change to the tidal speeds and flow directions within Strangford Narrows and that it is unlikely that marine traffic between Strangford town and Portaferry has been affected by the tidal turbine. With regard to bird life, although not a key feature of the EMP, the studies have shown that the overall bird numbers in the Narrows have remained stable.

Frank Fortune, Technical Director at Royal Haskoning, says: “The findings of the EMP give us confidence that SeaGen will be able to continue to operate with no likely significant impacts on the marine environment of Strangford Lough. This validates the innovative, adaptive management approach to monitoring and mitigation taken by MCT and supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.”

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Wave and tidal energy