When looking at maps showing the 1,300 offshore petroleum installations, 1,800 turbines at wind farms and not least the 25,000 ship wrecks one gets the impression that the originally soft bottom of the NS is littered with artificial hard bottom substrates, some of which extend from the bottom to the sea surface. Yet when flying across the NS the visible ones seem only like pinpricks in a vast ocean.
So do they matter? Have the physical presence of the MMS or the specialised ecological communities that they support, had a detectable impact on the overall ecosystem structure and function in the NS? What is the nature of this effect? Could it be that a change in the distribution and behaviour of top predators have a cascading effect down the food web? Could it be that the introduction of eggs and larvae of new hard bottom species have changed the plankton community? Do hard bottom species use the MMS as stepping stones for migration and recruitment to new areas? These and similar questions form the basis for INSITE, the overall aim of which is “to provide stakeholders with the independent scientific evidence-base needed to better understand the influence of man-made structures on the ecosystem of the North Sea”.