When a European lobster “hits rock bottom,” it has arrived home. In fact, thanks to researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Potsdam, Germany, 3,000 lobsters will be released next year to find a new habitat in the rock-strewn foundation of the 30-turbine Riffgat Offshore Windpark in the North Sea.
The scientists wish to investigate whether lobsters— which are rocky bed dwellers that hide in crevices during the daytime and become active at night—will successfully settle down among the wind turbines.
Before the construction of the windpark, sand and silt soils dominated the sea bed. Now, the wind turbines are offering other ecosystems a new settlement area in the form of so-called hard substrate.
The Land of Lower Saxony, a federal state in northwestern Germany with a population of nearly 8 million, is financing the three-year pilot project under the aegis of the NLWKN (Lower Saxony Institute for Water Management, Coastal Protection and Nature Conservation). The €700,000 ($921,000) in funding is being taken from compensation payments made under the Federal Nature Conservation Act for disturbing the ecosystem that existed prior to construction of the Riffgat windpark.
“Whil[e] the large number of windparks which will be developed in the German Bight [of the North Sea] in the next 15 years represent[s] an encroachment on the ecosystem, they could also be combined with measures of ecological enhancement,” commented Dr. Heinz-Dieter Franke, an AWI biologist.
The scientists launched the initiative because, with the arrival of the windparks, a protected area was urgently needed for fish and invertebrate sea bed fauna. The inhabitants of hard beds threatened with extinction also needed additional habitat.
“Despite protective measures, the lobster population has not recovered from a strong decline in the 1950s and 1960s to this very day,” explained Franke. “A successful settlement of the animals in the rocky fields surrounding the individual windparks as scour protection could contribute to a long-term stabilization of the population.”
The work is being conducted in close cooperation with the operator Offshore-Windpark RIFFGAT GmbH & Co. KG, Oldenburg (a merger of the energy provider EWE and the Enova Energy Group) and the project partners.
AWI scientist Dr. Isabel Schmalenbach will rear 3,000 baby lobsters at a station close to the windfarm. Once the young lobsters have reached a length of around 10 centimetres (four inches), the researcher, working together with divers from datadiving GmbH, will release them into the sea.
In the coming years, the AWI biologists will study the lobster settlement grounds, as well as a reference area, to determine how many of the young animals have become successfully established in the stony grounds; whether they remain at the original site at which they were released or seek out a crevice in a neighboring area; how accompanying fauna (large crabs and fish) develop; and whether wild lobsters migrate into the area.
Edited by Alisen Downey