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In the Mediterranean, dolphins and birds in the shade of future giant wind turbines

An experimental wind farm is to be installed next year, about fifteen kilometers off Leucate.

Dolphins, penguins, cranes flying over the blue water by the hundreds… The sailboat Thera i Luna leaves every week from Port-Leucate, in the Aude, to meet animals likely to cohabit with dozens of giant wind turbines in Mediterranean. Under the morning sun, in the wake of a trawler overflown by a myriad of birds, a dozen bottlenose dolphins leap off among the waves.

The cetaceans are reluctant to approach the Thera i Luna, a 13-meter sailboat from the NGO The Peoples of the Sea, on board which three experts have come to list the fauna of the sector. “You have to be patient. They will get used to us and come” to the boat, predicts Serge Briez, founder of the association, who is at the helm, his eyes riveted out to sea. His teammates, the ornithologist Alexandre Hamon and Sonia Gara, from the association for the protection of cetaceans Breach, then rush towards the bow, binoculars and camera in hand.

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These sea enthusiasts intend to complete studies, according to them very insufficient, on the possible impact of wind turbines on wildlife, and they hope that their research will be taken into account by the manufacturers.

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Observe to better protect

Bottlenose dolphins, which can weigh a few hundred kilos and measure up to four meters, rarely show up. But this time, luck smiles on the sailors of the Thera i Luna: the cetaceans are there. Even better, they end up approaching the sailboat and prancing along the hull. Off Leucate, “the presence of the bottlenose dolphin was unknown until Breach started studies in the area from 2007”, indicates Sonia Gara. “It’s rare to be able to observe them like that for two hours,” rejoices Serge Briez, emphasizing the “intelligence” of this protected species.

In the background, the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenean Canigou massif complete a postcard setting. Sonia Gara watches marine mammals attentively, as they dive: “We identify individuals by their dorsal fin. Each fin is unique. It’s the equivalent of a fingerprint in humans”, which allows them to be identified. identify and track their movements in the Mediterranean.

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After the wonder of this encounter, the three navigators continue their task, listing other animals, including many birds, during this trip to sea which will last about ten hours.

Cranes, razorbills, shearwaters, kittiwakes… the ornithologist conscientiously writes them down on his tablet in order to also feed the Faune France naturalist portal. Then the boat joins the “observation buoy” marking the place where an experimental wind farm is to be installed next year, about fifteen kilometers off Leucate.

“Unrecognized” real impact

As on two other pilot sites, expected off Gruissan (Aude) and Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône (Bouches-du-Rhône), this will make it possible to complete the research, and even to carry out other as to the behavior of animals, unpublished until then. Thus sensors will allow for the first time to detect day and night the passage of birds likely to hit the blades, explains Serge Briez, near the point where the giant floats on which the experimental wind turbines will rest should emerge.

Without waiting for the results gleaned from these future sites, Prime Minister Jean Castex launched two calls for tenders on Monday to build two floating wind farms in the Mediterranean by 2030, which could supply one million people with electricity.

However, at the end of the public debate, organized between last July and October on this subject, many voices were raised to ask for a postponement of these commercial sites. “We are not opposed to wind turbine projects at sea, but the preliminary studies are weak or not carried out”, argues Serge Briez.

Stressing that the real impact on wildlife “remains unknown”, he believes that it would take “several more years of research” to correctly assess the consequences of the installation of wind turbines. And the founder of the Peoples of the Sea is worried about “the accumulation of human activities: fishing, leisure and now wind turbines” which modify “the areas of rest, silence and nourishment”, and can “cause the decline of a fragile species” like the bottlenose dolphin.

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