Australia is entering a phase of rapid offshore renewable energy (ORE) development, with several regions earmarked for wind farms on the eastern and south-eastern coasts.

In considering the environmental acceptability of wind energy projects, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) will assess potential risks to (among other things) the recovery of populations listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act 1999).

The assessment process will consider cumulative environmental impacts at a regional or even ocean basin-scale, in addition to environmental factors specific to ORE. Additionally, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environment Authority (NOPSEMA) has identified the need for improved understanding on species, processes and industry activities to support impact and risk assessment.

This project will demonstrate the use of two kinds of modelling (whole-of-ecosystem modelling and individual species modelling) to estimate the impacts and risks of installing ORE infrastructure in the Gippsland declared region. The project will use the Impact pathways defined by DCCEEW to structure its approach and methods, and will work with DCCEEW and NOPSEMA to identify priority species and associated data needs.


The DCCEEW has identified 12 critical impact pathways for ORE in Australia. The project will use Problem Formulation to place the potential ORE-related harmful outcomes on species and habitats, within the broader context of existing and emerging threats due to climate change. This initial stage of the project aims to identify a suite of testable risk hypotheses to form the basis for the remainder of the project.

Cumulative risk assessment: key species

Population models will be developed for key threatened and migratory species, building where possible on existing models, to estimate population level effects of exposure to ORE-relevant impact pathways. The model domain will include the breeding, over-wintering, foraging and migration regions of each species. The exposure assessments will predict animal movements through proposed ORE areas, and the potential for encounters and behavioural changes that present a risk to individuals. The exposure assessments will examine potential impact pathways such as:

  • collisions between turbines and birds (or between vessels and marine fauna):
  • the effects of underwater noise and electro-magnetic fields: and
  • the displacement or attraction of animals due to noise, light or the physical presence of new infrastructure.

The next step involves assessing the extent to which these pathways present a risk to key species. The effect of exposure to impact pathways will be estimated through measurable, species-specific, mortality or morbidity related endpoints. The project may also be informed by the methodology and/or results of collision risk analysis conducted in Project 4.9.

To assess cumulative risk the project will define a limited number of plausible “development scenarios” that describe the possible distribution of renewable electricity generation infrastructure, both onshore and offshore, within the model domain of each key species. These development scenarios must also necessarily specify the expected change in the mortality or morbidity endpoints (defined previously) attributable to existing stressors, such as land-use changes, or the effects of feral and non-native species, under a range of plausible climate change projections.

Exposure-effects assessment: whole of ecosystem modelling

Some of the impact pathways identified by DCCEEW are best addressed through a whole-of-ecosystem approach to exposure/effects assessment. This includes the physical effects of wind farms on hydrodynamics and sediment transport (seabed disturbance and loss of/harm to benthic habitats) and the multiple pathways leading to possible impacts on Australian Marine Parks.

New or existing regional-scale hydrodynamic models will be used to parameterise the physical components of a whole-of-ecosystem model such as Atlantis to predict:

  • the effects of displacing other activities (particularly commercial and recreational fishing);
  • the trophic effects that may occur due to the attraction of fish and other fauna to offshore infrastructure; and
  • the whole-of-ecosystem effects of regional (or site-specific) pressures such as the construction and operation of wind energy generation (noise effects, increased traffic servicing installations) in combination with climate change effects on oceanic wind, heat and circulation.

The whole-of-ecosystem model will contribute to the species-specific population models, for example by identifying possible changes to foraging or migration behaviour due to changing ocean circulation patterns caused by the combination of climate-change and local-scale impact of ORE infrastructure. Moreover, the combined set of models provides greater weight of evidence (across a broader set of spatial-temporal scales) around potential effects on the key species. 

Risk mitigation and monitoring

The project’s population models will be used to determine ongoing requirements for species monitoring and will help to prioritise future research needs. The whole-of-ecosystem model will identify direct and indirect pressures and key ecosystem indicators, locations, timing and scales for monitoring.

The project will recommend a suite of post-assessment monitoring, leveraging wherever possible of existing monitoring programs, to track the state and response of key species and broader ecosystem in order to check whether the risk assessment model prediction match reality and provide a reliable basis for decision-making.

The project team will discuss with DCCEEW and NOPSEMA the feasibility of development-specific risk mitigation strategies, such as changes in design, judicious placement of structures and scheduling of activities, and the imposition of operational constraints. This will include the possibility of applying routine management activities that allow the ‘retirement’ of certain risks early in the process.

Expected outcomes

Agencies involved in regulating offshore wind energy development and managing species conservation will be better able to:

  • analyse scenarios to estimate the cumulative risks to key species, matters of national environmental significance (Australia Marine Parks) and other natural values from different levels (or patterns) of ORE infrastructure deployment in the Gippsland declared region;
  • make decisions about the acceptability of risk, how this may vary with the timing, number and placement of ORE infrastructure in the Gippsland region, and how risks may best managed during the construction and operation phase of this infrastructure;
  • test and recommended monitoring strategies;
  • quantify the predicted impacts of ORE and other anthropogenic pressures on relevant natural values in Beagle Marine Park; and
  • address action items in conservation management and recovery plans for key species.

Project location

Gippsland ORE area, northeastern Bass Strait