Ocean rewilding: England’s largest seagrass restoration project begins
Ships laden with seagrass seeds are leaving the south coast today as part of a four-year project to restore underwater meadows.
By all accounts, they are a miracle of the underwater world. Considered to sequester carbon 35 times faster than a rainforest, seagrass beds also provide a haven for some of the most fantastic marine creatures on Earth, even in the UK where enigmatic seahorses are among the found sheltered in the swinging leaves.
However, the UK’s seagrass beds have disappeared at a staggering rate. According to some estimates we have lost more than 90 percent of them in the last century or so; pollution, dredging, bottom trawling and coastal developments have contributed to its demise.
Seeking to change the course of these endangered ecosystems is a conservation initiative that bills itself as the largest seagrass restoration project in England.
Launched today and running for four years, the plan aims to plant eight hectares of biodiversity-rich seagrass beds off the south coast: four in Plymouth Sound and four in the Solent Special Marine Conservation Area.
Ships loaded with sandbags containing seagrass seeds will depart from the south coast starting this morning. On board will be gardeners from the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT), who will leave the bags on the seabed. Over time, the seeds from within will break through the canvas and begin to recolonize the ocean floor.
Over time, the seeds will make their way through the sandbags and re-colonize the ocean floor. Image: OCT
Led by Natural England, the LIFE RECREATION RESOURCES The project has been powered by local volunteers, who helped bag the seeds at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth. Some volunteer divers will also help monitor the project under the waves.
“This is truly a community effort,” said Mark Parry, development officer for the Ocean Conservation Trust. “It’s amazing to see the support from local communities supporting habitats for our coastal animal communities, a very proud moment.”
The Plymouth City Council said the seagrass restoration project would support its ambition to create a national marine park.
A similar project to restore seagrass beds in Wales was completed in 2020. Image: WWF
The LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES project is not the only seagrass restoration program in the UK. Seagrass Project is another reconstruction scheme focused on underwater meadows. Last year he planted almost 1 million seagrass seeds on two hectares along the Pembrokeshire coast., Wales.
Once the prairie has matured, Project Seagrass estimates that it could provide habitat for 160,000 fish, including seahorses and 200 million invertebrates. It is also expected to provide a habitat for many of the species we eat, such as cod, plaice, and haddock.
ReMEDIES is funded by the EU-Life program and supported by OCT, Marine Conservation Society, Royal Yachting Association and the Plymouth City Council / Tamar Estuaries Advisory Forum.
Main Image: Gardeners working for OCT prepare to go out to sea. Image: OCT