Could Wind Turbines Help Rescue Corals?

May 12, 2022

Above, for the first time, bleaching event happening on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during a La Nina year. La Nina years are historically cooler in the Pacific, compared to the warmer El Nino cycle events.

Bleaching is normally associated with the warmest years, and observing it during a more temperate year is worrisome for scientists.

Meanwhile, engineers are experimenting with Offshore wind turbines to see if they can at least partially mitigate reef damages.


Danish energy firm Orsted plans to try growing corals on the foundations of offshore wind turbines to find out if the method can be carried out on a larger scale.

In hand with Taiwanese partners, the concept will be trialed in “the tropical waters of Taiwan.” This week’s news represents the latest step forward in the company’s ReCoral initiative, which it started working on back in 2018.

Last year, those involved with ReCoral were able to grow juvenile corals at a quayside site. These were grown on what Orsted said were “underwater steel and concrete substrates.”

The proof-of-concept trials in June 2022 will involve a bid to settle larvae and then grow corals at the Greater Changhua 1 Offshore Wind Farm, a major facility in waters 35 to 60 kilometers (22 to 37 miles) off Taiwan’s coast. The project will use areas measuring 1 meter squared on four foundations.

In a statement Wednesday, Orsted said the goals of the project are to “determine whether corals can be successfully grown on offshore wind turbine foundations and to evaluate the potential positive biodiversity impact of scaling up the initiative.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, around one quarter of the ocean’s fish rely on healthy coral reefs. “Fishes and other organisms shelter, find food, reproduce, and rear their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals,” the U.S. agency says.

As well as being a source for food and what it calls “new medicines,” NOAA says coral reefs offer protection to coastlines from erosion and storms as well as providing local communities with jobs.

Despite their significance, the planet’s coral reef fast threats including coral bleaching. In March, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which manages the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, confirmed a fourth mass bleaching event since 2016.

According to a 2017 factsheet from the GBRMPA, bleaching is what happens when corals are placed under stress, get rid of very small photosynthetic algae — known as zooxanthellae — and start to starve.

“As zooxanthellae leave the corals, the corals become paler and increasingly transparent,” it says.

The authority’s factsheet cites the most common reason for bleaching as being “sustained heat stress, which is occurring more frequently as our climate changes and oceans become warmer.”

While corals can recover from bleaching if conditions change, they can die if things don’t improve.

Ørsted group president Mads Nipper said that if the pilot project proves successful, the firm would look to scale up the innovation across its turbines worldwide in order to “create a significant positive impact on ocean biodiversity.”

“To halt climate change and create a sustainable future for the planet, its ecosystems and its people, we must speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables,” he said. “Governments are preparing a significant expansion of offshore wind energy, and I’m confident that if done right, the offshore wind build-out can support and enhance ocean biodiversity.”

The proof-of-concept trial is set to begin next month at Ørsted’s Greater Changhua offshore wind farms in Taiwan, where the firm and its partners aim to grow new corals beneath the waves on four separate turbine foundations, with the corals sited close to the surface to enhance access to sunlight.

Waters surrounding wind turbine foundations are more stable and in theory are therefore capable of limiting the extreme temperature spikes which cause mass bleaching events, according to Ørsted.

The non-invasive project relies on the collection of surplus coral egg bundles that wash up on shorelines and would not otherwise survive, the firm explained.

The company previously teamed its biologists and marine specialists up with private and academic coral expects in order to test the concept in 2020, which led to them successfully growing their first juvenile corals on underwater steel and concrete substrates at a quayside test facility last year.

Hern-Yi Hsieh, director of the Penghu Marine Biology Research Center in Taiwan, welcomed the opportunity to take part in the new trial. “Environmental protection and marine biodiversity will continue to be one of the key topics of the world in the coming decade,” he said. “It’s great to see that, apart from its effort to supply clean energy, Ørsted is also launching its coral project here in Taiwan to promote environmental friendliness.”

If the proof-of-concept trial is successful, Ørsted will explore opportunities for scaling up the initiative, with the ultimate aim of using additional coral larvae generated at offshore wind farm locations to restore and enhance threatened near-shore reef systems.


One Response to “Could Wind Turbines Help Rescue Corals?”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I think that one of the reasons the waters around oil rigs in the Gulf are such great fishing spots is that they are regularly fed by human and food waste coming off the rigs.

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