Researchers to Test if Fish eDNA Makes Offshore Wind Cheaper

Renewable energy consultancy and service provider Natural Power, with partners EDF Renewables and NatureMetrics, has started a “first of its kind” research project to explore the use of offshore fish environmental DNA (eDNA) in survey methods for offshore wind farm environmental impact assessments.

The research project is expected to commence in March 2022 at the Blyth Offshore Demonstrator (BOD) wind farm, which is owned by EDF Renewables.

Surveys will be conducted using traditional fish trawling methods as well as eDNA sampling around the BOD site, after which the comparison of the results with the historical fish community data will be undertaken, expected to provide assessment and validation of the technique.

According to Natural Power, this method is expected to reduce the overall cost of energy production and minimize the environmental impact. The project is in line with UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

“We believe that eDNA techniques have the potential to reduce barriers in consenting for offshore wind farm projects in the future through more targeted baseline data collection, mitigation, and monitoring measures. If such techniques can be validated within the offshore environment as a viable alternative to traditional fish survey techniques, it may have significant benefits to both the developer and stakeholder communities, and we are eager to glean the insights from this valuable research work,” said Scott Sutherland, head of offshore at EDF Renewables.

The 18-month project has received an innovation grant of around GBP 34,000 from the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP).

“I’m looking forward to showing how eDNA methods can help companies in the marine energy sector monitor nature cheaply, quickly, repeatably, and at large scale,” said Dr Samuel Stanton, global sector head, marine and energy at NatureMetrics.

The eDNA method is a non-invasive sampling technique based on the fact that all species shed waste products, skin, and tissue cells into the seawater – and they all contain the underlying DNA of the fish.

Collecting and filtering a few litres of seawater concentrates the DNA, which can then be processed in the NatureMetrics lab to identify all the different fish species present. 

“There is significant evidence for eDNA providing robust data on fish diversity in nearshore environments, but very few studies exist further offshore, and to our knowledge, there has been no work investigating eDNA methods for fish ecology assessment near commercial offshore wind farms. We believe this research has huge potential benefits and will lead to marketable opportunities within the marine energy sector,” said Michelle Elliot, the senior environmental consultant leading the project on behalf of Natural Power.

BOD has already validated innovative methods at the site with the use of the “float and submerge” method for the installation of the gravity base foundations, a first for the offshore wind industry.

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The gravity base foundations combined a steel reinforced concrete foundation, with a steel monopile, which allowed the installation in water depth of up to 45 metres while eliminating noise from pile hammering during installation.

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Photo: Natural Power