Marine fouling assemblages on offshore gas platforms in the southern North Sea : Effects of depth and distance from shore on biodiversity

Stap, Tim van der; Coolen, J.W.P.; Lindeboom, H.J.


Offshore platforms are known to act as artificial reefs, though there is on-going debate on whether this effect is beneficial or harmful for the life in the surrounding marine environment. Knowing what species exist on and around the offshore platforms and what environmental variables influence this species assemblage is crucial for a better understanding of the impact of offshore platforms on marine life. Information on this is limited for offshore platforms in the southern North Sea. This study aims to fill this gap in our knowledge and to determine how the composition and the abundance of species assemblages changes with depth and along a distance-from-shore gradient. The species assemblages on five offshore gas platforms in the southern North Sea have been inventoried using Remotely Operated Vehicles inspection footage. A total of 30 taxa were identified. A Generalised Additive Model of the species richness showed a significant non-linear relation with water depth (p = 0.001): from a low richness in shallow waters it increases with depth until 15–20 m, after which richness decreases again. Using PERMANOVA, water depth (p≤0.001), community age (p≤0.001) and the interaction between distance from shore and community age (p≤0.001) showed a significant effect on the species assemblages. Future research should focus on the effect additional environmental variables have on the species assemblages.