Scientists hope to grow coral reefs at the base of wind turbines in Taiwan
Besides their natural beauty, coral reefs have an important role to play in the natural world. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about a quarter of fish in the ocean depend on healthy coral reefs.
Reinhard Dirscherl | Ullstein Bild | Getty Images
Danish energy company Orsted plans to try growing coral on the foundations of offshore wind turbines to find out if the method can be applied on a larger scale.
In collaboration with Taiwanese partners, the concept will be tested in “the tropical waters of Taiwan”. This week’s news represents the latest advancement of the company’s ReCoral initiative, which it began working on in 2018.
Last year, those involved with ReCoral were able to grow juvenile corals at a dockside site. These were grown on what Orsted described as “underwater steel and concrete substrates”.
Proof-of-concept trials in June 2022 will involve a bid to install larvae and then grow corals at the Greater Changhua 1 Offshore Wind Farm, a major installation in waters 35 to 60 kilometers (22 to 37 miles) offshore. the Taiwanese coast. The project will use surfaces of 1 square meter on four foundations.
In a statement on Wednesday, Orsted said the goals of the project are to “determine whether corals can be successfully grown on offshore wind turbine foundations and to assess the potential positive impact on biodiversity of intensification of the ‘initiative”.
Besides their dazzling beauty, coral reefs have an important role to play in the natural world.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about a quarter of fish in the ocean depend on healthy coral reefs. “Fish and other organisms find shelter, find food, reproduce and raise their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by the corals,” explains the American agency.
As well as being a source of food and what it calls ‘new medicine’, NOAA says coral reefs offer protection to coastlines from erosion and storms, while providing jobs for local communities. .
Despite their importance, the world’s coral reefs are rapidly threatening, including coral bleaching. In March, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, confirmed a fourth mass bleaching event since 2016.
According to a 2017 GBRMPA fact sheet, bleaching is what happens when corals come under stress, shed very small photosynthetic algae — called zooxanthellae — and begin to starve.
“As the zooxanthellae leave the corals, the corals become paler and increasingly transparent,” he says.
The authority’s fact sheet cites the most common reason for bleaching as “sustained heat stress, which occurs more frequently as our climate changes and the oceans warm.”
While corals can recover from bleaching if conditions change, they can die if things don’t improve.
For his part, Orsted says water temperatures at wind farms further from shore can provide more stability, with “extreme temperature increases” prevented by what he describes as “vertical mixing in the water column”.
The main idea of the ReCoral project is that this stability in water temperature will limit the risk of coral bleaching, allowing healthy coral growth on the foundations of the turbines.
Whether at sea or on land, the interaction of wind turbines with the natural world – including marine or bird life – is likely to be a major area of debate and discussion in the future.
In April, the US Department of Justice announced that a company called ESI Energy Inc had “pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the MBTA,” or Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
More broadly, the US Energy Information Administration has said that some wind and wind turbine projects can kill bats and birds.
“These deaths may contribute to population declines of species also affected by other human-related impacts,” the report says.
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