Seagrass, the extraordinary marine super-plant, is set to receive a boost on the Isle of Wight thanks to Seagrass Ocean Rescue, a wide-reaching 3-year restoration programme led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Swansea University and the conservation charity Project Seagrass, with help from Island-based environmentalists at ARC.
The initiative to seed and support new and existing underwater seagrass meadows in the Isle of Wight’s coastal waters is a collaborative effort and will be shaped with help and advice from the Island’s community groups and stakeholders in 2022.
If you’ve ever explored west of Ryde Pier or Bembridge Ledges at low tide, you’ll have seen expanses of the Island’s seagrass meadows first-hand. Not a seaweed but a plant, seagrass is one of only a handful of underwater plants in the world, making the most of the light in shallow coastal waters to photosynthesise; a marine ‘pollinator’ that flowers and produces seeds. These meadows form a complex habitat for marine wildlife, providing a huge range of ‘services’ from refuge for juvenile fish to the provision of feeding beds for overwintering birds such as our Brent Geese. Crucially, seagrass captures and stores carbon, making it an amazing ally in the battle to combat climate change.
Leanne Cullen-Unsworth at Project Seagrass explains more:
“Seagrass meadows are critical habitats providing benefits that support the survival of every living thing on Earth. Seagrasses produce oxygen, clean our coastal water, absorb greenhouse gas emissions, and help to keep our ocean healthy which stabilises the climate —both global and local. Seagrass meadows have the capacity to capture and store large volumes of carbon. They, therefore, have real potential to contribute to the UK’s carbon emission targets if restored at sufficient scale”.
“While up to 90% of our seagrass has disappeared in the UK, we’ve been surprised and excited to see that the Isle of Wight is still a stronghold”.
Evie Furness who joins the project from Swansea University, explains that the team began exploring the Isle of Wight last summer, carrying out initial habitat surveys, including drone mapping, remote camera work and dive surveys and more to gain a clear understanding of the local environment:
“Alongside these surveys, we’ve worked with Natural England, Ocean Conservation Trust and the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust to perform extensive seagrass meadow health surveys around the Solent, including looking at current reproductive effort. Last winter, we planted small scale trials at three sites (Yarmouth, Seaview and on the mainland at Beaulieu) which will help us to test the success and suitability of our planting methods”.
Current donors to the project include Sky Zero and Carlsberg, along with other philanthropic donations. The Seagrass Ocean Rescue project is also working closely with other seagrass projects in the Solent including collaborative research with the REMEDIES project and HIWWT. Seagrass Ocean Rescue is now looking to develop local partnerships (such as with ARC) to scope and plan for potential restoration in the Solent area.
Ian Boyd, Director at Sandown-based Arc, has said:
“This fantastic project is taking place at such a crucial time in the creation of new partnerships for wildlife here on the Isle of Wight. The Island’s UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve is fundamental to these efforts and over 60% of the designation is in fact marine, taking in all of the Solent and reaching the Hampshire and Dorset coastlines. WWFUK’s great work to conserve and extend local seagrass meadows will contribute essential learning to the challenge of climate change adaptation as well as forging new and productive links between the Island’s coastal communities and its outstanding marine environment”.
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