We’re pleased to announce that our new paper has been published this week in the journal Aquatic Conservation. The study explored how the presence of a tidal turbine might affect the movement of harbour seals in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland by analysing tracking data from resident harbour seals, before, during and after the installation of the SeaGen tidal turbine. This study was carried out in collaboration with our colleagues at the Sea Mammal Research Unit.

We were excited to find that the presence of the turbine did not stop harbour seals moving in and out of Strangford Lough. We could not conclude that the turbine had absolutely no effect on the seals as some small effects were detected. For example, seals appeared to give the turbine a wide berth, typically passing either side of it by a few hundred metres. We also observed that seals would swim past the turbine slightly less often when it was actually operating, although there was no change in the overall rate of transit through the Narrows. These subtle effects may actually serve to reduce the risk of seals colliding with the blades of a tidal turbine – so could be good news for the future co-existence of seals and tidal energy.

The study was commissioned due to concerns about the risk to seals posed by operating tidal turbines. Strangford was the site of the world’s first commercial scale tidal turbine. The Lough is also home to a resident breeding population of harbour seals and they have to regularly swim through the Narrows, past the turbine, to go out to sea to find food.

It’s important to stress that this is only one study at a single site and the protocol was that the turbine that actually would be shut down if seals came too close.  Therefore we need to repeat similar studies at other turbine sites to ensure that the tidal energy industry can develop sustainably with minimal effect on marine life.

As usual, we recommend folks check out the paper itself – and you can download it here.

Having provided extensive engineering and environmental learning for the tidal energy industry, the SeaGen tidal turbine has reached the end of its operational life and will be removed from the Strangford Narrows over the winter of 2017/18. Atlantis, the owners of SeaGen, continue to lead the development of the global tidal energy industry with the development of the MeyGen tidal array in the Pentland Firth in the North of Scotland. We’re continuing to work with them to help understand interactions between marine mammals and tidal turbines. To read about the marine mammal monitoring taking place at the MeyGen site see here.

SMRU Consulting are involved in many tidal energy projects at both a project and strategic level to help understand the interactions between marine mammals and renewable energy.