“Offshore wind power should coexist with seabirds.”

  • [Views from offshore wind experts] Dr. Seo Jin-hyeong, Ethologist

Equinor, the first to have implemented in Korea the international environmental impact assessment standards on the Firefly floating wind farm offshore in Ulsan.

Equinor Korea commenced the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for Firefly floating wind power offshore project since December 2021. It soon became the attention of the industry being the first to have implemented the international standards of Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) to the development of offshore wind farms in Korea.

Dr. Seo Jin-hyeong is an expert on bird ecology and oversees marine bird surveys in the ESIA. In parallel, she represents the Haein behavioral ecology and biodiversity research centre, where Equinor’s Korean supply chain partners are part of.

According to domestic standards, quarterly surveys are sufficient to meet the research requirements. Nevertheless, Equinor has been conducting surveys monthly based where Dr. Seo sails 70km offshore for about a week as she conducts a wider scope of survey.

Dr. Seo was passionate and full of energy when we met up with her, even though she had just been back from a week-long seafaring trip. “There are very few instances where only birds are investigated off the coast of Ulsan, as we are doing this time,” explained Dr. Seo. “I was a bit nervous at first but as you can see, I am enjoying the research. It’s costly and not easy to survey every month but this survey will be a very valuable resource in terms of securing a large database. I feel a sense of responsibility and pride, and it will be rewarding.”

In marine bird research, it is important to diligently collect vast amounts of basic data about the behavior of seabirds such as their migration routes and feeding patterns, to temporal and seasonal migrations. “Birds have a free-flying instinct. Seasonal surveys are limited because you cannot be 100% sure that any kind or specific bird will go the way you expect it to. That’s why monthly surveys are important.” Dr. Seo explained that results obtained using bird behavior modeling techniques are likely to be more reliable if there is abundant sample data that can reflect the characteristics of birds. According to the managers leading the EIA surveys at Equinor Korea, even after one year of monthly surveys, if the quality and analysis results of the collected data are insufficient the survey may need to be conducted for an additional year.

Why is Equinor investing in the research of seabirds going out to the rough, high seas? Dr. Seo was quick to respond, “This is everyone’s sea, and because we need to coexist with seabirds.” She added, “It is also because the basic data must be reliable so that the building of offshore wind power can have the least impact on seabirds and that offshore wind energy can be developed in a sustainable way for both people and nature.”

Dr. Seo has another goal in this marine bird research. “Equinor is operating globally several large-scale offshore wind farms, hence abundant in case studies and know-how, and we have been working closely with Equinor experts on this research and survey. This will be a good opportunity to show that Korea also has world-class experts in EIA.”

— ESIA – Environmental and Social Impact Assessment
Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process follows the IFC Performance Standards of the International Financial Corporation (IFC), a UN special organization and affiliated organization of the World Bank. The assessment process includes an understanding of socioeconomic criteria, climate change and vulnerable groups, with a focus on environmental and social sustainability perspectives. It is also a standard applied when evaluating and responding to social and environmental risks in the process of conducting large-scale projects.

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