Ecosystem level importance of STructures as Artificial Reefs (EcoSTAR)

Duration: 2020-2024

PI: Dr Debbie Russell and Dr Silvana Birchenough, (Univ. of St Andrews, UK; CEFAS, UK)

Project website

Project summary

The North Sea is one of the most industrialised marine environments on the planet, with thousands of man-made structures (MMS) including oil and gas platforms, pipelines, subsea cable routes, and marine renewable energy installations. Much of the infrastructure relating to the oil and gas industry has been in place for decades and is coming to the end of its economic life. In contrast, the marine renewable energy industry is expanding with many windfarms planned for construction in the near future. Current legislation requires that MMS in the North Sea should be removed from the marine environment after their operational lifespan is complete. With the decline of the oil and gas sector, the UK decommissioning operation will cost around £50 billion, with almost half of the financial burden falling on the taxpayer. These forthcoming changes in the North Sea landscape may have a significant impact on marine life. There is mounting evidence that the effects of MMS on the local marine environment are complex, and depend on the age, type, and operational status of the MMS. Once installed, MMS can host artificial reefs supporting diverse communities of marine life. Further, the exclusion of shipping and fishing in the vicinity of many MMS may provide refuges for fish and predators such as sharks, seals or porpoises (de facto Marine Protected Areas). However, the true extent of the effects of MMS on the ecosystem are unclear. To ensure effective decision-making about removal and installation of such structures in the future, there is an urgent need to better understand the impact of MMS on the North Sea ecosystem.

EII role:

Habitat modelling, spatial-temporal modelling, uncertainty testing, custom software development