A white boat approaches five offshore wind turbines situated in descending order from close right to far left on top of a blue ocean, against a blue sky.
Opportunity for Turbine Reefs The new report outlines a massive opportunity to create, enhance, and expand marine habitat by creating artificial reefs at the bottom of offshore wind turbines. © Red Vault

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The Nature Conservancy and INSPIRE Environmental Announce Potential for “Turbine Reefs” in New Report

Scientists identify ways to optimize wind turbines for marine life, which could enable the largest expansion of underwater habitat in U.S. history.

The Nature Conservancy and INSPIRE Environmental have released their highly-anticipated report, Turbine Reefs: Nature-Based Designs for Augmenting Offshore Wind Structures in the United States. The report outlines a massive opportunity to create, enhance, and expand marine habitat for native fish, shellfish, and other species by creating artificial reefs at the bottom of offshore wind turbines.

To limit the worst effects of global warming and build a clean energy economy, coastal states are rapidly developing offshore wind power with plans to build more than 2,000 offshore wind turbines by 2035. By collaborating with scientists, developers and government agencies can ensure the new “blue economy” also benefits marine life when it can. Using an integrated approach when designing and constructing turbines can create new marine habitats in offshore waters for the first time, improve the health of fisheries, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. 

Tricia K. Jedele, The Nature Conservancy’s offshore wind policy manager, said, “Without clean, renewable energy, the health of our oceans is at grave risk. By creating turbine reefs in partnership with offshore wind developers, we highlight how offshore wind can be part of the climate and biodiversity solution. We can enhance marine habitat and generate clean energy at the same time.”

Drew Carey, INSPIRE Environmental CEO, said, "This project was an excellent chance to combine new scientific information on the function of wind turbines as artificial reefs with the emerging techniques to enhance seafloor habitat for native marine life." 

The creation of turbine reefs would provide habitat for a wide array of native marine life from South Carolina to Maine, including species important to commercial and recreational fishing sectors.

“You go to Block Island, and you see lots of recreational anglers fishing right on top of the turbines,” says Captain Dave Monti, a charter boat operator with No Fluke Fishing. “Moving forward, anything we can do to enhance the pylons will have even more of a benefit.”

The opportunity to maximize habitat value lies at the bottom of the turbine. Many turbines will require placement of a layer of rock and other hard materials around its base to prevent erosion. If scientists and engineers use nature-based design to select and purposefully place materials, native fish, shellfish, and other marine life would have many more spaces to live, eat, and reproduce. An accompanying infographic and short animation demonstrate how nature-based design promotes reef growth by mimicking natural habitat features.

The report also includes a product catalogue of U.S. made materials that engineers can use to increase the ecological value of each turbine. It focuses on existing domestic products that can be used in or adapted for the offshore wind industry. The Nature Conservancy and INSPIRE Environmental created the catalogue to support the development of the nature-based design market and supply chain in the United States. The catalogue is a working compilation and may be updated in the future as the U.S. supply chain evolves.

The authors of the report are available for interview.

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INSPIRE Environmental is a team of scientists and analysts dedicated to making science understandable by applying innovative technology for effective solutions.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.