Gulf Stream Energy, with Turtles in Mind

A pioneering effort to generate electric power from ocean currents is about to enter a new phase at Florida Atlantic University. FAU researchers are focused on the Gulf Stream—a river of flowing ocean water that emerges from the Gulf of Mexico and heads north to Europe.

The project is part of the university’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center. At the end of March, the center was awaiting the first draft of the environmental assessment from government officials to drop turbines into the Gulf Stream.

For years, the project has sought permitting from various government agencies. The biggest concern is the impact on marine life, particularly sea turtles. Marine biologists have also asked for research on the impact to stressed coral reef systems and fisheries

“Whales, dolphins and sharks are smart enough to avoid a turbine in the water, although dolphins will inspect it out of curiosity,” says Howard Hanson, chief scientist at the center. “It’s sea turtles that we are looking at the most because they tend to move along with the current.”

Hanson said the first turbine will monitor sea turtles closely, providing a new avenue of research that could actually benefit the species.

The project will be located off the coast of the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, where the Gulf Stream comes closest to land. Eventually, private parties will be allowed to test alternate turbine models.