Pilot Project Replants Pembrokeshire Seagrass Meadows
Seagrass is a vitally important marine environment but is often overlooked and its value underappreciated. According to the project report, approximately 92 per cent of the UK's seagrass has disappeared in the last 100 years – the result of runoff from the land, coastal development and damage from boat propellers and moorings. Alongside its importance as a marine ecosystem, seagrass is also able to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide up to 35 times faster than tropical rain forests, and acts as a natural filter against the spread of pollutants.
The seagrass restoration project began in the summer of 2019 with the collection of one million seeds from seagrass fields around the UK by a team of volunteers led by Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University, director of Project Seagrass. The seeds have been cultivated over the winter in specially equipped laboratories and are in the process of being transplanted into Dale Bay in Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK.
Dale Bay has been chosen as its depth and local conditions are conducive to seagrass growth, and it is hoped that the project will result in the establishment of a seagrass meadow of up to 20,000 square metres, capable of supporting 160,000 fish and 200 million invertebrates. It is anticipated that the restored Pembrokeshire seagrass meadow will trap up to one tonne of CO2 per year once it is fully established.
The project aims to drive home awareness of the importance of seagrass above and beyond the marine environment, and encourage government investment into further restoration projects if the Dale Bay pilot is successful. 'If we want to provide our fisheries and our coastlines with the potential to adapt to a rapidly changing climate we need to restore the habitats and biodiversity that support their productivity,' said Dr Unsworth. '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 UK seas.'
Project Seagrass extends beyond the restoration of the marine environment to include the local communities that live and work in the area, including fishers, boaters and watersports enthusiasts. 'We're working very closely with some local communities to understand how we can restore these seagrass plants,' said Dr Unsworth, 'whilst at the same time respecting people's livelihoods - the fishermen and the boaters who live and work in these areas - so that everyone develops this amazing resource.'
The research suggests that not only will the local community benefit from an increase in fish, crab and shrimp numbers, but an increase in seagrass cover will provide better underwater visibility for scuba divers and other watersports enthusiasts, the idea being to 'demonstrate how communities and conservation can work in harmony.'
'Seagrass is a wonder-plant that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, so its steep decline is extremely concerning,' said Alec Taylor, WWF head of marine policy. '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. Governments also need to work with local communities to ensure that these vital areas are well managed. The UK can become a global leader in restoring ocean health and combating climate change if it uses the solutions that nature provides.'