Highlands & Islands

Marine renewable 'risks' to seabirds studied

Puffins
Image caption Researchers based in Thurso will examine potential risks to seabirds

The potential effects of wave, tide and offshore wind energy projects on marine wildlife are "largely unknown", according to researchers.

The Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso said the lack of knowledge was because the sector was still in its early stages.

Researchers at ERI are focusing their research on potential threats posed to seabirds.

They will create an index to show the species that are most at risk.

ERI, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), has set out a summary of the research.

The researchers said: "We are currently witnessing the rapid development of the marine renewable energy industry in Scotland.

"However, owing to the early stages of existing developments and associated monitoring projects, the ecological effects of generating energy from the marine environment are largely unknown.

"Given that Scotland holds internationally important protected populations of seabirds, there is an urgent need to assess which seabird species are most likely to be affected by marine renewable energy developments."

Wave height

Scotland's seabird numbers have declined over the last 25 years, according to a report published earlier this month by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The report used data collected by volunteers and professionals from breeding colonies around the country.

It showed that, from 1986 to 2011, the numbers of seabirds breeding in Scotland dropped by around 53%.

The continuing decreases were linked to a range of factors such as food shortages, non-native predators and weather conditions.

The largest declines were for the Arctic skua, 74%, Arctic tern, 72% and black-legged kittiwake, 66%.

Meanwhile, another part of the UHI network is producing what it has been described as the first detailed set of measurements and simulations of waves in the sea off the Western Isles.

The study by Lews Castle College in Stornoway will guide the development of wave energy projects.

Devices called wave rider buoys measure wave height out at sea.

In October last year, the equipment recorded waves said to be twice the normal height expected off a Western Isles coast.

The rollers of more than 15m (49ft) occurred during a gale when winds peaked at 66mph (106 km/h).

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