Marine scientists from Heriot-Watt’s International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) on Orkney are working with scientists from around the UK to investigate marine life connected to the rigs, pipelines and other infrastructure in the North Sea.

Marine life uses rigs and pipelines as stepping stones Photo: ICIT

Marine life uses rigs and pipelines as stepping stones Photo: ICIT

Oil and gas platforms, subsea pipelines and offshore wind farms have become home to different marine life over the years and the team wants to understand whether and how these species are connected across the northern North Sea.

Dr Jo Porter, project lead and marine scientist at Heriot-Watt’s ICIT, said that the team wanted to understand what would happen if oil rigs are decommissioned or offshore wind farms are installed. “We’ll start by looking at the distribution of creatures like mussels and barnacles and integrate that with our knowledge of their life cycles. When there are habitats close together they can act as a stepping stone for non-native species to set up shop and thrive.”

A sampling system comprising panels made of different materials used by offshore industries provides a settlement surface for the larvae of animals that colonise these structures. This system is deployed to a chosen depth and retrieved regularly.

“This project will provide vital evidence which may be used to guide decision-making concerning decommissioning of oil and gas rigs or placement of additional renewable energy infrastructure,” said Dr Andrew Want, a marine ecologist at the ICIT.

“We’re coming to the end of the fossil fuel lifespan and about to use the North Sea for a different type of energy,” he added.