Investigating marine mammal habitat use in a tidal energy hotspot at Ynys Enlli Bardsey Island

Researchers from Swansea University are teaming up with local fishermen and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to assess possible effects on marine environment from proposed tidal energy development.

SEACAMS research

The aim of the research is to study how marine mammals and seabirds use the seas around Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), and determining the most practical methods to study them.  Waters around Bardsey are alive with wildlife from porpoises and dolphins to seals and many species of diving seabirds. The area is part of the Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and as such requires special monitoring measures before permit can be granted for development.

The team, comprising of students and staff of Swansea University’s College of Science and WDC staff will spend two weeks on the isolated island. Dr Hanna Nuuttila and colleagues from Swansea University’s SEACAMS2 project at College of Science will be looking at the functional use of the area by cetaceans and assessing the best ways to study such a remote area, testing various surveying methods including visual tracking, aerial photography using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), underwater video as well listening to the echolocation clicks produced by the animals using underwater hydrophones.

SEACAMS2 is a joint project with Swansea and Bangor universities, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund to support industry-academia collaborations in Wales and aims to develop opportunities in low carbon energy and environment, and is an investment in the potential offered by the marine economy and marine renewable energy sector.  

Nova Innovation Ltd is proposing to deploy a 1MW tidal array in the sound and is keen to learn as much as possible about the local wildlife at the site so that this can be properly considered in the design of the project.  

Joseph Kidd, Commercial Manager for Nova Innovation Ltd said: “SEACAMS2 research will increase our understanding how cetaceans and seabirds use the area, feeding into our environmental impact assessment and adaptive management plans. Assessing the use of novel technologies will help us plan the most cost effective strategies for monitoring the special wildlife in and around Ynys Enlli, and on other Nova projects being developed"

Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) is one the species which visits the island every summer, a large dolphin with distinct grey and white markings and a tall erect dorsal fin. Whale and Dolphin Conservation is a research and campaigning charity which has been studying this species off Bardsey for two decades.  

Vicki James, Policy Officer, Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: “Whale and Dolphin Conservation have been conducting research in Bardsey since 1999, to gather information on the Risso's dolphin and harbour porpoise populations in North wales. Collaborating with Swansea University allows us to continue this vital research, as long term observations are key to effective monitoring and protection of these species and their habitats.” 

Swansea team aims is to investigate not just ecological impact of the project but also the overall impact on the local communities as a whole. Colin Evans, of a local fishing family who runs the Bardsey Island boat service said: “Fishing has huge value to the local communities in North Wales, not just for the local economy but also as part of the traditional heritage of the coastal communities”.

Dr Hanna Nuuttila of Swansea University said:  “This project has been greatly assisted by support from local fishermen, Bardsey Island Trust and the Bardsey Bird Observatory. Further studies are also needed to assess the impacts of marine renewable energy (MRE) structures on local fisheries, and my aim is to work closely with local fishermen to do this.“

Pictures

Risso’s dolphin off Bardsey, August 2017 (Choe Robinson)
Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli, July 2017 (Hanna Nuuttila)
Fulmar (Hanna Nuuttila)
Common dolphin (Juliana Castrillon)