Assessing Fish and Motile Fauna around Offshore Windfarms Using Stereo Baited Video
There remains limited knowledge of how offshore windfarm developments influence fish assemblages, particularly at a local scale around the turbine structures. Considering the existing levels of anthropogenic pressures on coastal fish populations it is becoming increasingly important for developers and environmental regulators to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing fish assemblages. Improving our ability to assess such fish populations in close proximity to structures will assist in increasing this knowledge. In the present study we provide the first trial use of Baited Remote Underwater Stereo-Video systems (stereo BRUVs) for the quantification of motile fauna in close proximity to offshore wind turbines. The study was conducted in the Irish Sea and finds the technique to be a viable means of assessing the motile fauna of such environments. The present study found a mixture of species including bottom dwellers, motile crustaceans and large predatory fish. The majority of taxa observed were found to be immature individuals with few adult individuals recorded. The most abundant species were the angular crab (Goneplax rhomboides) and the small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula). Of note in this study was the generally low abundance and diversity of taxa recorded across all samples, we hypothesise that this reflects the generally poor state of the local fauna of the Irish Sea. The faunal assemblages sampled in close proximity to turbines were observed to alter with increasing distance from the structure, species more characteristic of hard bottom environments were in abundance at the turbines (e.g. Homarus gammarus, Cancer pagarus, Scyliorhinus spp.) and those further away more characteristic of soft bottoms (e.g. Norwegian Lobster). This study highlights the need for the environmental impacts of offshore renewables on motile fauna to be assessed using targeted and appropriate tools. Stereo BRUVs provide one of those tools, but like the majority of methods for sampling marine biota, they have limitations. We conclude our paper by providing a discussion of the benefits and limitations of using this BRUV technique for assessing fauna within areas close to offshore windfarms.