Quick scan of cumulative impacts on the North Sea biodiversity: With a focus on selected species in relation to future developments in offshore wind energy

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The energy transition requires a fast upscaling of offshore wind energy. This, however, needs to be considered in the context of all the other human activities taking place as these together impact biodiversity. Furthermore, besides offshore wind developments several other activities are expected to change in the future. This report describes an analysis (quick scan) of the consequences of these developments in terms of the potential impacts of offshore wind as well as those other human activities in the North Sea. A Cumulative Impact Assessment (CIA) was applied to evaluate the consequences of these developments on biodiversity and thus the achievement of GES as the MSFD requires. CIAs are considered one of the key tools to apply in the context of an “Ecosystem Based Approach (EBA)”. For the use of these results, it should be noted that only impacts on biota and only direct effects were included (the abiotic/physical environment and effects via food web relations and other cascading effects were disregarded). This assessment was applied at the scale of the Greater North Sea and within this area spatial variation can be expected. This, however, was beyond the scope of this study. Besides an increase of offshore wind farm (OWF) developments, future scenarios include a decrease of several other activities taking place in the North Sea (e.g. fisheries, oil & gas industry). The results of this quick scan show that the cumulative Impact Risk for the whole North Sea for the majority of the ecological components considered in this study is likely to decrease in future scenarios of all human activities. This was observed to be most pronounced for fish and deep seabed. On the other hand, for some ecological components an increase of the cumulative Impact Risk is predicted, especially for birds, primarily caused by OWF. Mostly affected are the bird species with sensitivity to specific OWF pressures overlapping with their distribution area. These include Black-legged kittiwake, Great black- backed gull, Northern gannet, Great skua and Northern fulmar. Among the bird species that are expected to receive a high threat from OWF in the future there are several species that currently have an unfavourable status and trend. These are Black-legged kittiwake, Great black-backed gull, Northern fulmar and Herring gull. These species should receive special attention in the planning of OWF and mitigation of OWF impacts but might also be protected through measures directed at pressures from other activities than OWF.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Helder
PublisherWageningen Marine Research
Number of pages54
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2023

Publication series

NameWageningen Marine Research report


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