Protecting seagrass with the Ocean Conservation Trust
There are many incredible habitats around the South of England (UK). Some of these habitats are visible when we walk and explore the coastlines, woodlands, heath and grasslands alongside cultivated farmland which support a variety of wildlife, with insects, birds and mammals thriving in these places.
Often unseen are the habitats off the shore, hidden away, beneath our coastal waters.
These places are full of marine life and are of enormous importance to humans for many reasons.
Seagrass is one such habitat supporting many species of fish of commercial importance, protecting our shorelines from damaging waves and storing carbon which helps in the fight against climate change.
Because they are out of sight, habitats such as seagrass can be damaged without people realising and our everyday actions can have impacts which can be difficult to see.
Over time, these impacts can lead to the habitats, and the animals which rely on them, disappearing. Seagrass habitat around the UK has declined by around 92% over the last century. This sort of decline can have negative impacts on the fishing industry, can increase coastal erosion and affect carbon levels in the environment. By restoring, and protecting seagrass, we can improve the habitat while helping the animals which live there, and improving the services these habitats provide for humans.
In June 2020, the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT) opened a seagrass cultivation lab with funding from EU Life Remedies within the National Marine Aquarium (NMA), the first of its kind in the UK. This lab is designed to grow seagrass in batches to be sown into the Ocean in pre-determined sites. There are several stages to this process.
Firstly, suitable sites for collection need to be identified. These sites should consist of healthy seagrass beds, with a large extent of densely growing seagrass and with a high number of reproductive shoots.
Seed collection involves collecting the seed-bearing reproductive shoots. Each reproductive shoot consists of approximately 40 seeds, so 17,500 shoots need to be collected to reach our target of 700,000 seeds. Seed collection is a little like mowing a grass meadow, but by hand, and underwater!
Divers hand-pick each shoot, leaving the base and rhizome (root) of the plant, ensuring that the bed remains intact. Collecting from a healthy bed safeguards the habitat even further.
All the precious seeds are then transported back to the Seagrass Lab at the NMA and are held in specialized tanks. Conditions are carefully controlled to mimic their natural environment – light levels, water movement and water quality are all at optimum levels to promote the seeds to naturally fall out of their shoots.
To date, the OCT dive team have conducted four days of seed collection dives in different locations along the south coast and have nearly fulfilled their mission of collecting 700,000 seeds.
This work will go a long way towards helping to protect this incredible habitat which is found right on our doorstep.
All of this work is carried out with the purpose of restoring a habitat which is vital to us all.
“By restoring and protecting seagrass, we can improve the habitat while helping the animals which live there, and improving the services these habitats provide for humans. ”