NatureVolve

Pro­tect­ing sea­grass with the Ocean Con­ser­va­tion Trust

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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. ”

 ??  ?? Right: Sea­grass, Cas­tle Cove, Wey­mouth. © Ge­orgie Bull. All rights re­served.
Right: Sea­grass, Cas­tle Cove, Wey­mouth. © Ge­orgie Bull. All rights re­served.
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