Swansea University scientist’s work features in the fascinating Blue Planet II series

Swansea University marine scientist, Dr Richard Unsworth and his team, have been sharing their expertise with the BBC Blue Planet production team the results of which can be seen in the Blue Planet II ‘Green Seas‘ episode being aired this Sunday.

Project Seagrass, which was originally set up with Richard and two Swansea University students (Benjamin Jones and Richard Lilley), was approached by Blue Planet at the planning stage in 2014 and asked to suggest ideas for the programme.

Together with colleagues at Cardiff University the team presented their research ideas to them. They asked them mostly about seagrass meadows and specifically about some research Richard led on the behavioural ‘Collaborative hunting’ interactions between Grouper and Octopus (first ever documentation of this). The ‘Coral Reef ‘ episode featured this interaction.  Further to this the team at Project Seagrass have provided technical content, facts and figures and fact-checked the film.

Grouper and Octopus

Picture: Grouper waiting for the Reef Octopus on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. (Credit: Richard Unsworth, Swansea University) 

Richard said: “The Green Seas episode helps us to appreciate the wonder and importance of marine plants such as seagrass. These biodiverse ecosystems are of fundamental importance to the human planet yet remain threated around the world.”

Project Seagrass is an environmental charity devoted to the conservation of seagrass ecosystems through education, influence, research and action. It was created with the mission of turning cutting-edge research into effective conservation action and education schemes, by collaborating with local communities and other stakeholders all around the world. A dedicated team of seagrass scientists, who work to protect seagrass, and through seagrass, to support marine conservation more broadly. 

Speaking about Project Seagrass Richard said: “Seagrasses are flowering plants that live in shallow sheltered areas along our coast. These sensitive plants are different from seaweed and form bright green leaves. These leaves form large, dense meadows under the sea. Like the coral reefs and rainforest’s of the tropics, these underwater gardens are full of life, hosting many animals of different shapes, colours and sizes. However, like rainforest’s and coral reefs, these incredible underwater gardens are threatened. Globally, estimates suggest we lose an area of seagrass around the same size as two football pitches every hour. Protecting and restoring what is left is vital.”

Richard has also written an article for The Conversation about “Why saving our blue planet may lie in the hands of citizen scientists” which explores the need for better information about the seagrass extent in our oceans. Richard proposes the use of ‘Citizen scientists’ to help gather much needed information about the distribution and health of seagrass meadows across the world which would be vital for the protection of this key marine habitat. His team lead a citizen science project called SeagrassSpotter that is now featured on the BBC Blue Planet II website.

Video showing the Grouper waiting for the Reef Octopus on the Steve’s Bommie dive site in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (Credit : Richard Unsworth,  Swansea University). 

The article is available here:  https://theconversation.com/why-saving-our-blue-planet-may-lie-in-the-hands-of-citizen-scientists-74868

Richard is based within the Biosciences department at the College of Science at Swansea University where he teaches in the marine biology degree programme and leads an annual field module in the Caribbean for final year students.