Marine Energy Wales

Home » Assessing the distribution of diving birds in relation to current strength and renewable energy devices

A team of researchers from the College of Science at Swansea University is working in partnership with Marine Energy Wales (MEW) to monitor how diving seabirds, such as cormorants, guillemots and gannets, use Ramsey Sound, a dynamic stretch of water with strong tidal currents and hazardous rocks located at the western end of St David’s Peninsula, Pembrokeshire. 

This research is funded through the SEACAMS2 project, which aims to develop opportunities in low carbon energy and environment, and is an investment in the potential offered by the marine economy and marine renewable energy sector.  SEACAMS2 is a three-year project managed through Swansea University and Bangor University and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund to support industry-academia collaborations in Wales.

At the moment, it is unclear exactly how marine renewables will affect diving birds. Dr Emily Shepard, an Associate Professor working in the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University said: “Part of the difficulty is in understanding the particular water currents or conditions that these animals tend to target or avoid when they are diving.”

This project will allow researchers and MEW to provide essential data about the fine-scale movement of seabirds in areas where marine energy devices are located. The team are using various novel techniques including a high-tech pair of binoculars, with an inbuilt laser range finder and compass, to record the positions of birds from the land. This approach is non-invasive and can provide locations of birds over 3 km from the observer.

The team hope this will show whether diving species tend to occur in particular areas in the sound, and whether these patterns are driven by the strength and direction of tidal currents.

In the future, the data collected by the project could also provide insight into whether disturbance caused through device installation and operation will alter the areas that seabirds use.  The project may also employ cutting-edge tagging techniques to reconstruct the paths that seabirds take underwater.

David Jones from Marine Energy Wales (MEW) says “We are delighted to be working with SEACAMS2 on this project which will play an important role in contributing to our knowledge of the marine environment. The marine energy sector is continuing to grow rapidly in Wales and we have an opportunity to not only create a new, green energy sector but also to export skills, knowledge and innovation to a growing global economy. Research such as this is vital in ensuring that developments are carried out in a sustainable way.”

The Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme Ocean Energy (ORJIP OE) are excited and pleased that this project has commenced. Since its inception in 2015, ORJIP OE has, via a series of “Calls for Evidence”, collated and reviewed information from a wide range of key stakeholders in order to define key strategic research priorities that will reduce consenting risk for wave, tidal stream and tidal range projects.

Of the various priority research topics identified to date, the following specific issue has been highlighted by a number of stakeholders;

The nature of any potential interactions between diving birds and tidal turbines is uncertain”.

Therefore, ORJIP OE are pleased that this project aligns with key research priorities identified via the current programme. The data collected will help contribute to the understanding and awareness of this topic and, ultimately, will help reduce consenting risk for future tidal stream projects.

Fieldwork is continuing in Ramsey Sound with hundreds of seabird locations having been plotted to form preliminary distribution maps. Emma Cole, the project officer, is continuing to collect data over the coming months to see how wintering species (including seaducks) use the Sound.