Save our Seagrass
Our planet is facing a climate crisis and the impact is clear to see – floods, storms, bushfires, soaring temperatures and melting ice sheets. But a tiny plant that lives in our shallow seas could help solve some of our environmental problems – and you can help us secure its future.
Why is seagrass so important?
Carbon storage: Seagrass is the single most important species in the sea for locking in CO2. As a habitat it is far more carbon rich, and good at absorbing carbon than an equivalent area of rainforest.
Protecting coasts: With rising sea levels causing coastal erosion, healthy seagrass blades – often up to 1m high - can reduce the power of waves washing away our sheltered coves and beaches.
Protection for important species: Seagrass beds are essential nurseries and egg-laying habitats for seafood species such as cod and crabs as well as other species including cuttlefish and sharks.
A forest shelter: Seagrass is a complex ‘forest’ that hides many animals, and increases the organic enrichment of the sand and muds around the root systems. This is a vital shelter and food source for molluscs, shrimp, crustaceans, anemones and other ‘invertebrates’ to thrive in.
Seagrass in decline
Many UK seagrass beds have decreased in size over the past century. The decline has been caused by industrial growth, modification of ports and sheltered harbours, boat traffic, increasing and stronger storm events, and more recently and most damaging of all, pollution within the water column that affects the light getting to the seagrass beds, and increases the amount of ‘fouling’ algae on the seagrass strands. Now, from global research over the past 20 years, we are more aware of the vital role seagrass plays in the environment and can now make the case for the protection and recovery of such vital inshore habitats.
How MCS is helping reverse the decline
Water quality: MCS has been at the forefront of ensuring that our coastal seas have significantly improved water quality. The past 30 years of investment in water-treatment has enabled a rise in water quality to support our rich natural biodiversity. When waters are polluted there is less light for photosynthesis (the process plants use to turn sunlight into energy) to take place. Polluted waters also mean an increase in the amount of algae growing on seagrass blades and in the water column – both of which are bad for the health of seagrass. Our campaigning work when aligned with the EU’s Water Framework Directive throughout the 90s, 2000s and 2010s has enabled regulation supporting water companies to invest in water treatment works. However more needs to be done over combined sewage overflows and poor farming practices leaching nitrogen, pesticides and other chemicals into our rivers and ultimately into our coastal waters.
Fishing: MCS has worked with ClientEarth since 2009 to get damaging fishing (trawling, scallop dredging) out of seagrass beds in English Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and in 2014 we were successful in getting regulators, like the local inshore fishing authorities, to protect all English seagrass beds in MPAs. Trawlers and dredgers sometimes ‘cleaned their gear’ by towing it through seagrass – thankfully that is now illegal. However, there is still an issue with recreational fishers, digging out bait from muds and intertidal seagrass beds in places such as Essex and the Solent, and it’s essential that this sort of activity is stopped with the help of such things as no access zones, voluntary codes, and information to fishers.
Boating: Since 2019, MCS has been working with the Ocean Conservation Trust (with support from Plymouth-based superyacht company ‘Princess Yachts’) to support the replacement of traditional ‘block-and-chain’ moorings with sophisticated ‘Advanced Mooring Systems’. So far we’ve replaced five traditional block and chain systems that scraped across the seabed ripping up seagrass, with mooring ‘riser’ chains which are suspended above the seabed using submerged buoys. An additional significant benefit is that we’ve used ‘screw piles’ to secure the riser chain to the seabed. Such piles provide tremendous holding strength to vessels in windy conditions – and their load capacity is quantifiable, unlike many moorings currently used by recreational boats where we’ve seen an array of materials such as engine blocks, and more commonly, concrete-filled tyres to hold down moorings. Already there are signs of seagrass regeneration close to the moorings themselves since installation in spring 2019. MCS has also been collaborating on a much larger-scale restoration project for English seagrass beds with help from the EU LIFE funding which supports environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU.
The project, called REMEDIES - Reducing and Mitigating Erosion and Disturbance Impacts Effecting the Seabed - is being undertaken in five marine protected areas: Isles of Scilly; Fal and Helford; Plymouth Sound and estuaries; The Solent and Essex estuaries.
The REMEDIES project will enable:
- Behaviour change amongst boaters led by the Royal Yachting Association including workshops, day visits, codes and best practice materials
- Increasing education in schools and communities around the Marine Protected Areas we’re working in, led by MCS and the Ocean Conservation Trust in Plymouth
- Replacement of traditional moorings with over 60 advanced moorings – led by Natural England
- The re-seeding of existing and lost seagrass beds and propagation of existing plants - led by the Ocean Conservation Trust
- Monitoring of the health of the MPAs within which the project will take place - led on by Seasearch and Natural England
MCS is delighted to be part of a project that seeks to enhance the technologies available to reduce the damage of seagrass beds, while sowing new beds into appropriate places. Such work will enable recovery of such a vital part of our marine ecosystem at a time when the climate crisis is part and parcel of our work.