Sky Ocean Rescue (Sky’s campaign to improve ocean health), leading conservation organisation WWF and Swansea University, are undertaking the biggest seagrass restoration project in the UK.
They aim to restore 20,000 square metres of the marine plant in west Wales, following the disappearance of up to 92% of the UK’s seagrass in the past century. The huge decline has been caused by pollution, runoff from the land, coastal development and damage from boat propellers and chain moorings.
Seagrass is a flowering marine plant that captures carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, making it a key weapon win the battle against climate change. It often grows in large underwater meadows which absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Alec Taylor, WWF head of marine policy said: “Seagrass is a wonder-plant that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, so its steep decline is extremely worrying. Without seagrass, the myriad of amazing species that depend on it could disappear, and the amount of carbon in the environment will increase. Along with Sky Ocean Rescue and Swansea University we are urgently calling on governments to use the model our project is creating to bring back these lush underwater meadows. ”
Seagrass is vital to our oceans and can help answer some to the world’s most pressing environmental concerns:
- Globally it accounts for 10% of annual carbon storage, despite occupying only 0.2% of the seafloor
- It acts as a nursery for a wide variety of marine life from seahorses to sea snails, 10,000 square metres of seagrass can support 80,000 fish and 100 million invertebrates
- It is a crucial habitat for many of the fish we eat
- It helps protect our coasts from erosion as it absorbs wave energy
- It produces oxygen
This summer, one million seeds were collected from existing meadows around the British Isles by a group of volunteers led by Swansea University. The seagrass, which is found in shallow, sheltered areas of the coast, was reached by snorkelling, diving and wading. The blades containing the seeds were snapped off – causing no harm to the plant – and then taken to labs where they are currently being sorted and prepared, following a method pioneered by Swansea University.
The seeds will be put into hessian bags to secure them when they are planted on the seabed, which is taking place this winter at a site in Dale Bay, Pembrokeshire. Historically this area has lost seagrass, but has the right features for it to survive in terms of water depth and having sufficient light levels.
Swansea University’s Dr Richard Unsworth, director of the Project Seagrass and lead biologist on the project said: ” If we want to provide our fisheries and coastlines with the potential to adapt to a rapidly changing climate, we need to restore the habitats and biodiversity that support their productivity. Providing a demonstration of the potential for restoration of our marine environment to be meaningful will hopefully act as a catalyst for further recovery of our seas.”
This work involves working with local communities close to the planting site to design the project in a way that does not affect livelihoods and lifestyles. In addition to supporting an increase in fish, crab and shrimp numbers which will benefit fishers, the area containing the seagrass is likely to see improved water clarity, enhancing local watersports activities. The work aims to demonstrate how communities and conservation can work in harmony.
With many thanks to the Press Office of the University of Swansea for allowing me to reproduce their exciting story.
Credit for their beautiful photos goes to: WWF UK/Lewis Jeffries