Snakelocks Anemone on Seagrass Georgie Bull

Seagrass in a pandemic

2 minute read

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

20 Sep 2020

In September 2020, we were invited aboard the yacht of one of our Marine Conservation Society volunteers, Chris Cooling. Together we ventured to a southern English seagrass bed to plan a monitoring project. Here we recount our first meeting.

A retired yachtsman, Chris invited us to join him on a trip to Osborne Bay – one of England’s richest seagrass beds. ‘Us’ was anyone involved in the ReMEDIES project - a multi-partner, four-year project trying to restore damaged wetlands in five Marine Protected Areas around England’s south coast.

How sailing affects marine habitats

On this particular day, I was joined by Kate Fortnam who described being in her ‘ultimate job’ as the Campaign Manager of the Royal Yachting Associations ‘Green Blue’ initiative. Her job is to make sailors more aware of the environment around them and to recommend environmentally-friendly boating practices; from not disturbing wildlife, reducing waste, and – most pertinently for seagrass beds — how to ensure that anchoring and mooring damages as little of the green stuff as possible.

She was a perfect guest for Chris as she immediately started talking about all things anchors. You’d never believe there was so much to talk about regards anchors: setting anchors, anchor weight, rope and chain length, ‘springiness’ of rope, but as Chris is a trained engineer, the conversation lasted some time… believe you me!

Protecting our seagrass

We boarded Allegra in Gosport near Portsmouth, and headed off to Osborne Bay on the northeast of the Isle of Wight in early September.

Upon arrival we undertook a survey to see how many vessels of what type were anchored there. We got the opportunity to have a swim and see the rich seagrass in the bay close to shore. We also then had the opportunity of hearing – at considerable volume – some ballads from a great sound system aboard the vessel while tea was made.

We left after about four hours having got a feel for the place and what practical things could be achieved before winter closed in by Chris, Allegra, and some ideas for surveys.

Seagrass near Weymouth Georgie Bull

Credit: Georgie Bull

Chris's research

Chris has been back to the site on numerous occasions and undertaken video surveys and still photos using a Remote Operational Vehicle that he purchased for the project. He filmed the seabed inside and outside the known anchoring locations to ascertain the damage.

That data is now with the University of Plymouth to be published as part of a Master of Research. It will inform Natural England’s recommendations for the management of this important habitat.

This video by Chris Cooling shows mooring impact on segrass at St Mawes (November 2020).

So, let’s embrace our ocean enthusiasts and citizen scientists on this day of wetland wonder. Let’s give them the space to develop their own ideas. After all, we ‘experts’ don’t always know best! Sometimes it’s our informed audiences and partners who have the best ideas.

Here's to saving our seagrass. It’s going to help fight against climate change. And, frankly, we need all the help we can get!

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The interview with Chris Cooling, below, was recorded aboard his yacht Allegra in November 2020 when anchored at St Mawes, Falmouth.

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