More Mussels

December 16, 2018
By Damond Benningfield
Episode:

Blue mussels.jpg

A small clump of Blue Mussels. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Blue mussels are riding the winds across the North Sea. They’re not taking up wind surfing, though. Instead, they’re colonizing the bases of offshore wind turbines. Over the next couple of decades, that could boost the mussel population, with ripple effects throughout the ecosystem.

The North Sea is between Great Britain and northern Europe. Winds there are strong and steady, making it an ideal location for wind farms. At the end of 2017, in fact, it was home to about 70 percent of Europe’s offshore wind capacity. And thousands more turbines are scheduled to be installed there.

Researchers from Germany looked at what the turbines mean for life in the North Sea. They counted the blue mussels on the bases of a few current structures in the North Sea. They then calculated how many mussels would inhabit all of the planned turbines. Finally, they used models to simulate what that could mean for other life in the sea.

The researchers found that the turbines could yield a population explosion for the mussels. By 2030, mussels on the turbines could equal about 40 percent of the sea-floor population. That should attract organisms that eat mussels. And as the mussels die, their shells will pile up on the sea bed, attracting bottom-dwelling organisms.

The mussels will filter microscopic organisms from the water. That will leave less food for some fish and other critters. And the effects could extend hundreds of miles from the wind farms -- long-ranging changes powered by the wind.