In addition to their natural beauty, coral reefs play an important role in the natural world. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs.
Reinhard Dirscherl | Ullstein Picture | Getty pictures
The Danish energy company Orsted plans to try to grow coral on the foundation of offshore wind turbines to find out if the method can be implemented on a larger scale.
In the hands of Taiwanese partners, the concept will be tested in “the tropical waters of Taiwan”[ads1];. This week’s news represents the latest step forward in the company’s ReCoral initiative, which it began working on back in 2018.
Last year, those involved in ReCoral were able to grow young coral in a quay area. These were grown on what Orsted said were “underwater steel and concrete substrates.”
The proof-of-concept experiments in June 2022 will involve an attempt to settle larvae and then grow corals at Greater Changhua 1 Offshore Wind Farm, a large facility in waters 35 to 60 kilometers (22 to 37 miles) off the coast of Taiwan. The project will use areas of 1 square meter on four foundations.
In a statement on Wednesday, Orsted said the project’s goals are to “determine whether corals can be successfully grown on offshore wind turbine foundations and to evaluate the potential positive biodiversity effect of scaling up the initiative.”
In addition to their lively beauty, coral reefs play an important role in the natural world.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. “Fish and other organisms hide, find food, reproduce and raise their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals,” says the US agency.
In addition to being a source of food and what it calls “new medicines”, NOAA says that coral reefs offer protection to coastlines against erosion and storms, as well as providing communities with jobs.
Despite their importance, the planet’s coral reefs threaten rapid 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 incident since 2016.
According to a fact sheet from GBRMPA from 2017, bleaching is what happens when corals are exposed to stress, get rid of very small photosynthetic algae – known as zooxanthellae – and start starving.
“When zooxanthellae leave the corals, the corals become paler and increasingly transparent,” it says.
The government fact sheet cites the most common cause of bleaching as being “persistent heat stress, which occurs more frequently as our climate changes and oceans become warmer.”
While corals can recover after bleaching if conditions change, they can die if things do not get better.
For its part, Orsted says that water temperatures at wind farms further away from land can provide more stability, with “extreme temperature increase” prevented by what it describes as “vertical mixing in the water column.”
The overall idea of the ReCoral project is that this stability in water temperature will limit the chance of coral bleaching, which enables healthy growth of corals on turbine foundations.
Whether offshore or onshore, wind turbines’ interaction with nature – including marine or bird life – is likely to be an area for much debate and discussion going forward.
In April, the US Department of Justice announced that a company called ESI Energy Inc had “pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the MBTA,” or the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
More generally, the US Energy Information Administration has said that some wind projects and turbines can cause bats and birds to die.
“These deaths may contribute to a decline in the population of species that are also affected by other human-related influences,” it said.