Swansea Uni, MEW team up for diving birds monitoring

Illustration (Photo: Chris Knights; RSPB)

A team of researchers from the College of Science at Swansea University is working in partnership with Marine Energy Wales (MEW) to assess the distribution of diving birds in relation to current strength and marine renewable energy devices.

The researchers will 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, off Pembrokeshire.

At the moment, it is unclear exactly how marine renewables will affect diving birds, according to Swansea University.

The project is supposed to provide researchers and MEW with essential data about the fine-scale movement of seabirds in areas where marine energy devices are located.

The team is 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.

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.”

The approach used by the researchers is non-invasive, Swansea University said, and can provide locations of birds over 3 km from the observer.

The results are expected to 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, Swansea University informed.

The project may also employ cutting-edge tagging techniques to reconstruct the paths that seabirds take underwater.

David Jones, Project Director at MEW, said: “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 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.

Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme for Ocean Energy (ORJIP OE), a UK-wide collaborative program of environmental research that aims to reduce consenting risks for wave, tidal stream and tidal range projects, welcomed the start of the project, stating:

“The nature of any potential interactions between diving birds and tidal turbines is uncertain. Therefore, ORJIP OE is pleased that this project aligns with key research priorities identified via the current program. 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.”

Swansea University said the fieldwork is continuing in Ramsey Sound with hundreds of seabird locations having been plotted to form preliminary distribution maps.

The data collection work will go on over the coming months to see how wintering species, including sea ducks, use the Sound, Swansea University noted.

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