Eco- moorings project could result in seagrass recovery

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 25 October 2018

Old moorings in Cawsands Bay, Plymouth have been replaced with new eco-friendly ones that have been shown to allow environmentally important seagrass beds to recover after damage caused by traditional anchorage methods.

Eco-mooring installation plymouth sound

If the project is successful, we hope it will lead to other areas using this cheap and practical technology where there has been animosity between local conservationists and boat owners over calls for anchor bans

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt,
MCS, Principal Specialist, Marine Protected Areas

The ‘helical’(corkscrew) moorings project is being funded by Plymouth-based Princess Yachts in a joint, three year venture with MCS and the National Marine Aquarium (NMA).

Seagrass meadows are a crucial part of the marine ecosystem – they stabilise seabeds, lock in CO2 more efficiently than rainforests, host larval and juvenile fish and seahorses, and are great breeding grounds for cuttlefish and sharks in UK seas. But they are extremely vulnerable when traditional moorings using chains that drag along the seabed through the seagrass are used.

The project involves MCS and the MNA installing at least five eco-moorings in a threatened seagrass bed in Cawsands Bay in Plymouth.

Mark Parry from the NMA says that over over the last four years the NMA has trialed various iterations of the Sterling Eco-Mooring, along the south coast of Devon which have proven successful: “The Sterling Eco-mooring design, until recently have been prototypes. But working in collaboration with MCS and with the support of Princess has allowed us to scale the prototype to a finished design. The deployment of the five Sterling Eco-Moorings within Cawsand Bay is a significant contribution to relieving physical disturbance a Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) through boating. We look forward to the results of this bigger trial and the potential of deploying Sterling Eco-Moorings in other MPAs.”

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Principal Specialist Marine Protected Areas, says: “We’ve installed five ‘helical’ moorings that are screwed into the seabed from a crane on a barge that sits above the mooring. It uses a screw powered device that twists the mooring into the sediment. The chain that is used to tie the boat off is then lifted to the surface by smaller buoys that end with the larger moorings buoy. It’s effectively like turning a corkscrew into a wine bottle, with a chain attached to the top of the screw. The chain that rises to the surface from the seabed therefore never touches or scrapes around the seagrass bed itself and will likely result in recovery of seagrass.”

Dr Solandt says it was fabulous to see the collaborative spirit between the project funder, Princess Yachts, Natural England, NMA and local boat owners: “There was great interest from local and regional media and the project will be featured on the the BBC regional Spotlight programme, highlighting its importance and how it could be scaled up. We are trialling a new installation system which is exciting, innovative, and progressive for conservation. We’re delighted to have support from the mooring owners. And we congratulate the work of the aquarium to facilitate such incredibly good relations with them.”

The team aim to dive the site soon, and then three times a year to investigate the impact on the seabed.

“If the project is successful, we hope it will lead to other areas using this cheap and practical technology where there has been animosity between local conservationists and boat owners over calls for anchor bans. These eco options offer a potential solution to future stand-offs.”

Kiran Haslam, Marketing Director, Princess Yachts said “Three years ago we set in place an initiative in marine conservation, and every year we renew and strengthen our commitment to MCS. The delicate seagrass eco system is now in need of our attention and Cawsand Bay lies at the mouth of the river Tamar, a stone’s throw from our home city of Plymouth. We’re proud to be able to support the pioneering initiative that will give the seagrass beds an opportunity to repair itself.”

“The seagrass bed is considered to currently be in ‘unfavourable condition’ by Natural England and we believe we’ll be protecting something like 0.5km square of seagrass bed with our project in the first year. We hope to cover the entire bed within the planned three years.” says Dr Solandt.

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Did you know?…

UK seas and shores are a place for leisure, sport, and a holiday destination for millions annually

An area over 9 times the size of Wales is now in marine protected areas in the UK, but less than 1% is considered by MCS scientists to be well managed

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’