By B.N. Frank
Economic, environmental, health, and/or safety issues associated with wind projects on land and offshore continue to be identified worldwide by climate groups, developers, lawmakers, world leaders and others (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) While wind proponents continue to defend projects, whales and other ocean life continue to wash up on beaches in the U.S. (see 1, 2, 3, 4) and in Scotland (which has also authorized 16M trees to be cut down for wind farms).
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July 16th, 2023 – Lewis, Western Isles: The terrible sight of 55 Pilot whales washed up dead and dying on a remote Scottish beach caused a deep sense of sadness that resonated around the world.
July 20th, 2023: A Minke whale is found dead on the very same stretch of sand.
It’s clearly no coincidence that the whales perished in the same location, but what was the cause?
Although theories abound as to why these great mammals stranded, there is one glaringly obvious possibility that most people do not want to face – that noise caused by nearby windfarm survey work affected the whales’ delicate sonar, disorienting them and leading to their demise.
Scotland’s wild isles and the march of industry
This latest mortality event once again raises the question of whether it is ever appropriate or acceptable to construct such massive industrial developments in unspoiled natural environments, in the midst of irreplaceable habitat for some of the world’s most threatened wildlife.
The answer is surely a resounding ‘no’.
The wind farm in question, somewhat romantically called “Spiorad na Mara” (it’s Gaelic for ‘Spirit of the Sea’), is to be constructed in a pristine marine setting just a few kilometers off the coast of the beautiful Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Western Isles.
Survey work, on behalf of the wind farm’s owner, is being carried out ahead of construction. Some connection between these surveys and the recent spate of whale deaths wouldn’t be surprising to many, similar cetacean mortality events have been occurring around the world, often coinciding with wind farm operations. Indeed it is openly acknowledged in planning applications for offshore wind, and in the accompanying environmental assessments, that cetaceans are likely to be harmed in the course of surveying and constructing these controversial developments.
Sonar, a ‘most plausible and likely trigger’ for strandings
It was established several years ago that sonar technology, similar to that employed by the wind farm survey vessels, could be attributed as the cause for mass whale strandings, including one well documented event involving 100 whales in Madagascar in 2008. This is because cetaceans rely on their own natural sonar to navigate and locate food.
Artificial noise in the ocean can detrimentally affect this delicate mechanism. In the Madagascar case it was suggested that a multi-beam echosounder system operated by a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil was likely to blame for confusing the animals, driving the whales into a shallow lagoon. In 2013, an independent scientific review into the Madagascar stranding concluded that “While aspects of the stranding remain unknown, the panel concluded that a multi-beam echosounder system, operated intermittently by a survey vessel moving down the shelf-break the day before the event was the most plausible and likely behavioral trigger for the animals initially entering the lagoon system.”
It should be noted that acoustic surveying is used by several diverse industries and services, for example the hydrocarbon industry and the military, in addition to wind energy companies. So the same cautionary findings are relevant to all of those who operate this kind of technology in our oceans.
Prior to these latest Scottish strandings, much recent focus has been on the other side of the Atlantic, where increasing numbers of whales have been washing up dead on beaches in the North Eastern United States, coinciding with survey work being carried out offshore on behalf of the wind industry. Supporters of the big wind companies deny there’s any connection, claiming that something else must be causing the mammals to beach.
Isle of Lewis
Back to the Isle of Lewis, the co-owners of the planned Spiorad na Mara wind farm, a Canadian company Northland, have a licence to carry out survey work in the area – including during the period around the time of the whale deaths – and in their licence application, submitted by their UK entity Northland Sheena Limited to the Scottish government, they were open about the fact that their proposed work could detrimentally affect marine mammals. Indeed the licence itself grants permission “to disturb or injure marine European protected species.”
Northland’s application suggested that their surveys could ‘disturb or harass’ the following numbers of several species: 8 Beaked Whales, 6 Bottlenose Dolphins, 252 Harbour Porpoises, 44 Pilot Whales, 15 Minke Whales, 157 Risso’s Dolphins, 109 Common Dolphins, 4 Striped Dolphins, and 177 White-beaked Dolphins. (They said that these figures represent “the worst-case number of individuals of each species present within the Survey Area that may be impacted.”)
The equipment proposed for carrying out the surveys comprised five different components, including a Multi Beam Echo Sounder, presumably similar to the one believed responsible for the mass stranding in Madagascar, referred to earlier.
Northland say in their application that “The equipment used in the proposed survey that has potential to cause the biggest potential impacts are the Sub Bottom Profiler (SBP) and Ultra-short Baseline (USBL) due to the frequency they operate at.”
It’s understandable that those in power are desperate to find a solution to the world’s deepening energy crisis. Wind energy has been held up by proponents as the ideal solution to the worldwide demand for electricity, and the public has bought into the idea – so much so that some people seem afraid to criticise the industry, in spite of the signs that suggest something is very wrong with the current plan.
Whales washing up dead, bird populations plummeting, mass crustacean die-offs, large numbers of bats killed by turbines – these are all indicators that the frenetic expansion of wind farm schemes around the world must be paused while more urgent research is carried out into the potentially catastrophic damage they are causing.
Common sense (and science)
Let’s just use some common sense here, in addition to the science, there is at least a potential connection between the offshore wind industry and whale deaths. It is frankly obvious to anyone who isn’t either heavily invested in the schemes or hoodwinked by the greenwashing.
And we mustn’t forget that it is an industry, these energy companies are not there for the benefit of you, your community or even your country in many cases, they exist to make a profit.
That doesn’t make it wrong necessarily, but it is misleading for those companies to claim that their projects are somehow ‘green’ and that they will help in any significant long term way to reduce global warming and address the climate crisis. And so far their schemes don’t seem to result in lower electricity bills either. But perhaps the cruellest betrayal of all is the claim that wind farms are somehow beneficial to wildlife – this is an assertion that has been peddled by some industry supporters who point to the ‘thriving ecosystems’ around the bases of offshore wind turbines, while they will recklessly ignore the immense damage caused to almost all forms of life during planning, construction and operation of the huge banks of turbines filling our seas.
In spite of the clear warning signs that this industry is harming marine wildlife, construction continues at a rapid pace. It is hugely irresponsible, perhaps little more than a cynical race for money before people wise up and begin to question the integrity of an industry that wilfully destroys ancient ecosystems and natural environments, and all in the name of green energy.
Some might say that such collateral damage is acceptable in our quest for renewable energy. I disagree, strongly. Aside from the reckless desecration of unique natural beauty, the tragic sight of dead whales on a beach is perhaps the saddest metaphor for humankind’s stupidity and selfish greed.
Clumsy development in beautiful places
To those in power, who give the green light to projects such as Spiorad na Mara, I would respectfully ask this question: who in their right mind thinks that building huge industrial wind farms in pristine natural environments is in any way acceptable?
It’s unethical and profane.
Indeed, it’s not only offshore environments that are being damaged. Highly controversial plans for large scale onshore wind farms are causing much heartache for communities on other Scottish islands, from Shetland to Skye, where timeless wilderness will soon become a vast industrial estate, changing the landscape forever. And the UK governments in England and Wales too seem determined to push the agenda further in those countries.
But the tide of public perception is turning. Gradually, more and more are wondering just who is benefitting from this industrialisation of our sacred places, as well as questioning whether this is progress or just a short term, highly damaging stop gap.
One thing is for certain, if we allow it to continue unchallenged, we face an ecological disaster.
Source: Jason Endfield | 23 July 2023 | jasonendfield.medium.com
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