A project to take a close-up look at a group of highly specialised sea creatures could shed new light on the secrets of marine life living on renewable energy devices below the waves.
The project could ultimately see the creation of a detailed map to identify the type, speed of growth and prevalence of attaching organisms – a process known as ‘biofouling’ – with the aim of better informing the operation and maintenance of sub-sea equipment.
The project is being led by the Glasgow-based Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) catapult, the technology and innovation centre specialising in offshore renewables, in conjunction with researchers from SAMS Research Services Ltd (SRSL), PML Applications Ltd and paint manufacturer AkzoNobel.
The overall aim of the project is to map for the first time how communities of these attaching, or ‘sessile’, creatures vary around the UK’s coast and to develop a sensor to measure their growth rates, with the purpose of better advising offshore installations and developing preventative methods.
Leading the project is Vicky Coy, ORE project manager. She said: “Biofouling is a huge issue both in the UK and across the world. We work closely with offshore renewable energy technology developers and biofouling is repeatedly highlighted to us as a potential challenge for the renewables industry and related sectors.
“These organisms often attach in large numbers, creating particular problems for offshore renewable energy structures and the associated operational activities, adding weight, clogging machinery and accelerating deterioration.
“While much is known about these communities, this is the first time they have been looked at in this way, including the way growth patterns vary around the UK’s waters, and the impact they could have on renewables installations such as offshore wind and subsea tidal turbines, wave energy devices and their connected infrastructure.
“The project outcomes will also support greater understanding of the evolving bio-diversity of our seas.”
Dr Raeanne Miller, marine scientist at Oban-based consultancy SAMS Research Services Ltd, said: “The build-up of marine organism growth, or biofouling, is well-known to result in severe operational issues and increased down-time across a range of marine industries – offshore renewable energy included.
“The type of biofouling around UK waters varies greatly. Biologists already have some tools and datasets to predict the type of biofouling which may develop on subsea structures and more data will continue to support the assessment of forthcoming sites for development and the planning for accurate maintenance and cleaning levels.
“Mapping these habitats won’t just be useful for industry, it could be a hugely important tool to help preserve indigenous species and protect our seabeds.”