The Marine Institute undertake marine environment data collection activities include seabed habitats, benthos, noise and water quality of interest to the renewable marine energy sector.
Under the MESH Atlantic programme the Marine Institute have been involved in the development of a framework for mapping European seabed habitats. MESH has created a structure to collate and improve habitat maps at a national level, contributing in turn to the compilation and aggregation of data at international level. MESH project outputs intend to contribute to the development of emerging marine planning mechanisms, by providing accurate, repeatable and standardised methodologies for data collection and interpretation.
In relation to ocean energy development the importance of seabed habitat knowledge to the location of renewable energy conversion devices is paramount to successful test and deployment of energy convertors.
The seafloor is a very suitable indicator of stresses on the marine environment and can act as an early warning system. These stresses can originate from natural and/or anthropogenic sources. The condition of the seafloor (physical, chemical and biological) has been shown to modify in response to external influences. External influence from the marine renewable energy development industry could include the siting of wave, wind and tidal devices with connections to the seafloor.
The first step towards evaluating such impacts is coming to a more complete understanding of baseline conditions at sites where wave energy devices may be tested or installed permanently. To that end, construction of one of the most complete pictures of a large swath of ocean bottom off Ireland to see what “normal” looks like can provide a useful "baseline" to understand the impacts of marine renewable energy on the seafloor.
In relation to the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site the following information on water quality was provided in the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the foreshore lease application. These considerations are analysed when site selection and device deployment in the marine environment are being implemented.
The main impacts on water quality will arise during the construction phase, when cable burial and anchoring operations will generate suspended sediment close to the cables. However, this will quickly settle and there will be only a temporary and insignificant impact on water quality. There is also a risk of accidental oil pollution from vessels should a collision occur. On-ship pollution plans will be put into operation in the event of such an occurrence, and the high energy nature of the location would rapidly disperse any residual contaminants. During the substation construction there is a risk of silt entering the local drainage system which discharges across Belderra Strand. However, with good construction practices the risk will be minimised and impact will be low. During the operational phase waste-water from the substation site could contaminate the nearby drainage system but this will be treated using a proprietary treatment system or tankered off site for disposal in accordance with legal practice. The deployment and operation of the test site submarine electricity transmission cables in the seabed offshore and in the beach of Belderra Strand is not expected to present any significant risks to water quality during construction, operation or decommissioning.
The potential hydro-environmental impacts of tidal renewable energy systems sets out the requirement for hydo-environmental modelling in assessing potential impacts of proposed schemes. Recent modelling studies in the Severn estuary in the UK provides a useful baseline for understanding the potential effects on water quality of tidal energy developments.
Ireland's Marine Atlas has been published as part of Ireland's commitment to reporting to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The atlas provides public access to data from a range of organisations involved in the marine sector in Ireland. The atlas provides a single easy-to-use point of access to up-to-date Irish marine information to those in the ocean energy development sector undertaking an analysis of the marine environment related to a site assessment, environmental impact assessment and environmental impact statement. Themes of data in the atlas include:
- Administrative units
- Protected sites
- Ocean energy resource
- Ocean features
- Discharge point sources
- Inshore sea fisheries
- Seabed habitats
This online atlas may be studied with Ireland's MSFD Marine Strategy Report for a fuller understanding of the initial assessment of the marine environment.