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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

Wind farms benefit whales

Updated: May 31, 2023

At the moment on the NSW Central Coast some people appear to be getting sucked in by misinformation about whales and wind farms. They believe a proposed off-shore wind farm threatens them as they migrate up and down the coast. The science shows Australia's whales do face serious threats. But not from wind farms. Indeed, as part of the world's urgently-needed shift away from fossil fuels, wind farms can contribute to whales' security.

Whales are primarily imperilled by climate change which wreaks havoc on their ocean habitat and alters their food availability and migration patterns. Data shows many are already returning from Antarctica malnourished. Overfishing also depletes their food sources and toxic pollution contaminates their environment and harms their health. Ship strikes, caused by busy maritime traffic, are another grave danger to whales. Ship propellors and noise seriously threaten our whales. Plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear and continued hunting by Japan are also major threats. Wind farms are not.

Actually, wind farms benefit whales by helping combat climate change through their generation of clean, renewable energy without greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, wind farms help protect ocean habitats from the impacts of rising temperatures and ocean acidification.

But wind energy has another noteworthy advantage for whale conservation in regions like Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, where burning and exporting coal are major activities. Transitioning to renewable energy and ceasing coal exports can substantially reduce shipping traffic. This lowers the risk of ship strikes and noise pollution to whales and thus helps safeguard their well-being. The Port of Newcastle handles 4,700 ship movements per annum. It is the biggest coal exporting facility in the world. Each ship represents a threat to whales everywhere it travels - through direct strikes and disrupting noise pollution. And indirectly, each ship threatens whales through its facilitation of coal exports and global emissions. Coal is the world's number one source of climate damage and Australia is the world's biggest coal exporter.

Protecting whales requires a multifaceted approach. One that addresses their key threats. One that is not distracted by misinformation. That's why it's important not to get sucked in by the coal lobby and climate change denialists. Addressing climate change, reducing marine pollution, and minimising ship strikes by transitioning to renewable energy sources like wind, can help forge a sustainable future for our whales.

This whale and its baby swam right underneath me in 2017 when I was Threatened Species Commissioner.

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