Could Planting Seagrass Solve England’s Environmental Problems?
Oil spills, plastic pollution and coral bleaching are some of the major problems associated with the decline of the world’s oceans. Little consideration is given to the 7% of seagrass habitat that is lost globally, making it the fastest declining habitat on the planet. The Ocean Conservation Trust, however, is putting seagrass habitats at the forefront of environmental concerns with England’s largest seagrass plantation project.
At five sites in Great Britain, the project, led by Natural England, aims to transform the barren seabed with Zoestra Marina, one of two eelgrass species in the United Kingdom. With the first batch of plantings completed in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, the project aims to “re-sprinkle and regrow this critical habitat”. 80 volunteers spent a week filling jute bags with 16,000 seagrass seeds and 2,200 seedlings, grown with the facilitation of the lab. The hessian bags used in other seagrass projects facilitated the natural recruitment of seedlings and, in Plymouth Sound, is expected to degrade to the ocean floor within five weeks, leaving no waste behind. It is estimated that the seeds themselves germinate within the first three to five weeks after planting, and the soon to be established grasslands could attract up to five times more wildlife than empty seabed, providing “habitat”. nursery for commercial and recreational fishing “. .
While protecting coastal ecosystems has other human benefits such as’ storm protection ‘and’ recreation opportunities, it also has other environmental benefits such as blue carbon storage. It has been defined by the National Ocean Service as “the carbon captured by the world’s ocean and coastal ecosystems”, with seagrass habitats capable of “storing 35 times more carbon than tropical forests”, thus fighting against climate change. It has been suggested that if the 92% of seagrass that has been lost across the UK were restored, they would have the potential to store 3% of the country’s carbon emissions. While the percentage may seem small, it equates to 11.5 million tonnes of carbon, meaning blue carbon could be vital to reaching net zero. In a conversation with Redbrick, Clare Baranowski, of the Ocean Conservation Trust, revealed that she believed the government had started to prioritize blue carbon, but encouraged them to continue to support “carbon recovery projects.” blue carbon ”.
As seagrass beds become established, they could be threatened by local fisheries, says Baranowski; “Anchors lying around the seabed can cause significant damage.” However, Life Recreation ReMEDIES, one of the project’s partners and supporters, is working to combat this by encouraging sustainable anchoring practices that will cause less damage to aquatic wildlife. Baranowski believes damage to the seabed has decreased significantly due to reduced human activity in the ocean, following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic nonetheless caused problems for the project in the form of delays and social distancing limiting the number of volunteers allowed on the boats for the plantation. Baranowski warns that restrictions may still be in place when work begins on the second site – the Solent Special Marine Conservation Area, planting the same seagrass species used in Plymouth Sound. While restrictions are still in place, Baranowski encourages those who wish to help donate and support the Ocean Conservation Trust and to follow their work on their website and social media.
To learn more about their work or to donate to the Ocean Conservation Trust, follow the link below or search for the Ocean Conservation Trust on Facebook or Instagram.
Ocean Conservation Trust | UK based Global Ocean charity
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