Are wind farms good for animals and marine life?

Short answer: Yes, wind farms are a key part of the solution to climate change, making them essential to our native wildlife and marine life’s survival. Wind farms can and must be well-designed to coexist with and mitigate their impact on wildlife.

Long answer Climate impacts like acidifying oceans, rising sea levels and extreme heat waves are putting threatened species at grave risk.

Climate destruction, driven by burning coal and gas, is a key driver of extinction in Australia. Conserving nature demands that we phase out coal and gas. Wind farms generate renewable energy to replace coal and gas in powering our lives, providing critical relief for our wildlife.

Just like any development, impacts on native plants and animals must be front of mind when renewable energy projects are being planned. Wind farms must be well-designed to avoid and mitigate impacts on plants, animals and ecosystems.

Research shows that with thorough environmental assessments and planning and mitigation, the overall risk of wind farms to marine mammals can be low.

The same cannot be said for the destructive nuclear, coal and gas industries, which have long histories of harming wildlife and ecosystems in Australia and across the world. A US study showed that compared to wind energy, fossil fuel power is responsible for more than 34 times the rate of bird fatalities.

Australia’s plants and animals will have no hope in a world that’s 2 degrees hotter, so, well-planned wind farms are critical to phasing out coal and gas and providing wildlife with a liveable future. We can achieve this with strong, consistent planning laws from our governments to ensure every wind turbine is carefully managed and placed where harm to our wildlife is mitigated.

"The reality is offshore wind has been operational for decades with active proponents mapping and mitigating any sort of impacts on marine life. Many studies [point] to how proponents can minimize impacts on marine life to ensure that offshore wind projects are not sited in particularly sensitive areas." – Macquarie University senior lecturer Madeline Taylor.

What’s the go with wind farms and whales?

Short answer: Well-designed wind farms can coexist with whales while generating renewable energy to create a safer climate and protect whales from worsening climate impacts like warmer temperatures and food loss.

“There is not a shred of scientific evidence that whales are affected at all by offshore wind farms.” Dr Mark Diesendorf, University of New South Wales

Long answer: Wind farms have been in operation for over four decades (offshore wind farms for over three decades) and unlike offshore gas and oil, there’s no evidence that wind farms kill whales.

Everything we do in our oceans has an impact, so wind farms must be well designed so that they can coexist with whales, ways to do this include:

  • Fully assessing threats for each project
  • Choosing the right location and steering clear of critical habitat for threatened and migratory species like the Humpback whale and Southern right whale.
  • Implementing best practice, like setting speed limits for boats, increasing monitoring for whales and selecting materials that have lower levels of noise pollution.

The projects we must stop to protect our whales and marine life are the massive offshore gas proposals that would lead to:

  • greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketing
  • hundred-kilometre-long underwater pipelines cutting through marine habitat
  • the risk of big oil spills in our oceans.

If an oil spill occurred at Woodside’s proposed Scarborough and Browse projects off the coast of Western Australia, 54 threatened animal species are at a direct risk of being impacted, including Blue pygmy whales and Humpback whales.

Climate damage, driven by burning fossil fuels like gas is pushing whales to extinction. Warmer temperatures mean less ice cover and food for Humpback and Blue pygmy whales when they migrate to Antarctica in the summer, and uncomfortably hot breeding grounds when they move to Australia's tropical waters in the winter.

Wind farms are so much safer for whales, and generate renewable energy that can displace fossil fuels and protect whales from the impacts of warmer temperatures, acidifying oceans and rising sea levels.

What’s the go with wind farms and birds?

Birdlife Australia says climate change is emerging as the greatest threat to Australia’s birds, and advocates for well-designed wind farms to mitigate the impacts on birds.

One study in the US estimated the rate of bird deaths per Gigawatt hour across a range of energy sources and concluded that fossil fuel and nuclear power were responsible for greater bird fatalities than wind power.

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It’s a sad reality that birds regularly fly into tall structures, like communication towers, power lines and buildings. There are proven, effective ways for wind farms to live alongside birds, including:

  • Spacing wind turbines further apart so that birds have more space and find it easier to navigate through
  • Painting turbine blades black or with a pattern can see and distinguish them. A Norwegian study found this can reduce bird collision fatalities by 72%.

Climate destruction is a much greater threat to the survival of all our birds, so the renewable energy generated from wind farms provides a net benefit for our avian friends.

Can noise from offshore wind farms have any impact on marine life?

Short answer: Noise from wind farms is safe for marine life, but the construction phase can temporarily or permanently shoo away certain species like dolphins.

Long answer: When wind farms are in operation they create less underwater noise than ships and studies show that this level of noise pollution is unlikely to reach dangerous levels. Before construction, offshore wind surveys are conducted and they use soundwaves to scan the seabed. This is much quieter than offshore oil and gas surveys that penetrate several kilometres into the earth to find oil and gas for drilling. Installing wind farms does create percussive noises that can cause marine life like dolphins to move away temporarily. But unlike oil and gas, there is no noisy drilling into the seabed for wells or risk of oil spills.

“Things like porpoises or dolphins, they may move out of that area while you’re installing the wind farms, but then the longer-term picture: in some areas, they never come back, in some they come back in larger numbers than before.”

– Rob Deaville, Zoological Society of London’s 's Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme

How can offshore wind farms boost biodiversity?

Wind farms generate renewable energy, creating a safer climate critical for all nature to thrive.

They can also provide direct benefits to wildlife in the area where they are built. The introduction of wind farms into waters can create new habitat, known as the ‘artificial reef effect’.

A 2023 study from Aberystwyth University in the U.K. found that the deposits of rocks and boulders that protect the foundations of offshore wind turbines are creating new habitat for European lobsters.

“It [offshore wind farms] can actually attract animals and it can increase abundance and diversity.” Dr Claire Szostek, ecosystem services specialist from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory on the artificial reef effect.