The general manager of the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) says nearly five months after deployment of a Cape Sharp tidal turbine, there has been no evidence of effects on fish, marine mammals or seabirds.
“But it’s too early to tell yet,” Tony Wright adds. “The data that we’re collecting is going to take a long time to analyze…We’re trying to show potential impacts on how a population behaves so that takes time to really understand if we’re seeing any changes at all.”
Wright was speaking to reporters on Thursday during a community meeting at the Parrsboro legion where about 60 people showed up to hear an update on the FORCE tidal energy demonstration site in the Minas Passage about 11 kilometres west of the town.
Wright said that a wide-range of information is being gathered on fish density, the presence of marine mammals and noise generated by the turbine. The data are being sent for analysis to the University of Maine and then compiled into quarterly reports submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment.
He said the first such report was due on March 31 and should be available on the FORCE website in about two weeks.
No collisions anywhere
Earlier, Anne-Marie Belliveau, director of operations at FORCE, told the Parrsboro meeting that there have been no collisions observed so far between tidal turbines and fish or marine mammals anywhere in the world.
Belliveau referred to a 2016 international scientific report on marine renewable energy co-ordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy. The report examines the effects of single turbines or small arrays of them.
A one-page summary on collision risk states: “No instances of marine mammals, fish, diving seabirds, or other marine animals colliding with an operational tidal turbine have been observed to date.”
However, the report goes on to say that instruments capable of observing such collisions are still under development and few have been deployed or tested around an operating turbine.
“Laboratory simulations have shown that fish may pass through turbines but very few are likely to be harmed,” the summary adds.
Disagrees with fishermen
For his part, Tony Wright points to 93 scientific studies conducted so far saying he disagrees with the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association that more baseline information should have been gathered before the first turbine went into the water. (The fishermen are awaiting a decision from the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on whether the provincial environment minister acted within her rights when she approved proposed environmental monitoring plans allowing for deployment of two Cape Sharp tidal turbines.)
Wright says the FORCE monitoring program is focused on studying the potential impact of the first turbine.
“It’s our hope that the monitoring program that was implemented on fish distribution, lobster, seabirds, mammals is really going to help us identify further areas of study,” he says. “It’s our view…that the baseline data collection can continue.”
Listening for sea creatures
FORCE ocean technologist Tyler Boucher told the Parrsboro meeting about the various ways he’s helping collect information from the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage.
He said that one involves submerging instruments called C-PODS that sit on the ocean floor for up to four months listening for marine mammals such as harbour porpoises.
Another involves measuring the presence of fish using boat-mounted echosounders and a third method uses drifting hydrophones to measure noise levels from the tidal turbine.
And, starting this spring, he said, FORCE will deploy multiple traps in two concentric rings to monitor the ability to catch lobsters.
Boucher, who studied marine biology at Dalhousie University before undergoing training in oceans technology at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth, is enthusiastic about his first job.
“I would definitely say it’s an exciting job,” he says. “I got really lucky and was able to do my internship here,” he adds. “It’s actually been a really great experience.”
Turbine blades still turning
Meantime, in an e-mail update to Warktimes, Sarah Dawson, who speaks for Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., said the company’s first demonstration turbine is still generating electricity at the FORCE site.
“Operation teams have been testing the turbine, making adjustments to the software and gradually increasing production over time while testing the technology during different tidal cycles,” her e-mail adds.
It also says that although the company doesn’t have a firm timeline yet, it aims to deploy its second turbine sometime in 2017.