Unravelling the ecological impacts of large-scale offshore wind farms in the Mediterranean Sea

Lloret, Josep; Turiel, Antonio; Solé, Jordi; Berdalet, Elisa; Sabatés, Ana; Olivares, Alberto; Gili, Josep Maria; Vila Subirós, Josep; Sardá, Rafael. Science of The Total Environment 824 : 153803 (2022)  DIGITAL CSIC

The need for alternative energy systems like offshore wind power to move towards the Green Deal objectives is undeniable. However, it is also increasingly clear that biodiversity loss and climate change are interconnected issues that must be tackled in unison. In this paper we highlight that offshore wind farms (OWF) in the Mediterranean Sea (MS) pose serious environmental risks to the seabed and the biodiversity of many areas due to the particular ecological and socioeconomic characteristics and vulnerability of this semi-enclosed sea. The MS hosts a high diversity of species and habitats, many of which are threatened. Furthermore, valuable species, habitats, and seascapes for citizens’ health and well-being coexist with compounding effects of other economic activities (cruises, maritime transport, tourism activities, fisheries and aquaculture) in a busy space on a narrower continental shelf than in other European seas. We argue that simply importing the OWF models from the northern European seas, which are mostly based on large scale projects, to other seas like the Mediterranean is not straightforward. The risks of implementing these wind farms in the MS have not yet been well evaluated and, considering the Precautionary Principle incorporated into the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, they should not be ignored. We propose that OWF development in the MS should be excluded from high biodiversity areas containing sensitive and threatened species and habitats, particularly those situated inside or in the vicinity of Marine Protected Areas or areas with valuable seascapes. In the absence of a clearer and comprehensive EU planning of wind farms in the MS, the trade-off between the benefits (climate goals) and risks (environmental and socioeconomic impacts) of OWF could be unbalanced in favor of the risks.