Novel seagrass restoration could reverse marine biodiversity decline in the UK

New research by Swansea University is helping to develop novel methods to restore our damaged British marine environment and consequently help bolster our declining fisheries.

The research is developing a means of restoring endangered seagrass meadows in the UK by growing mats of these marine plants to replace previously damaged habitat. The trials are being conducted in collaboration with a Swansea company (Salix Bioengineering) who are experienced in restoring riverine habitats.

Seagrass seedlings

Divers at Swansea University last summer collected seed containing fruits of the seagrass Zostera marina at Helford River (Cornwall) and Torbay. The seeds were then separated once dropped and have now begun to germinate in aquaria facilities at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR). Seagrass scientists working within the SEACAMS project are now developing a means of growing the hundreds of germinating seedlings into seagrass mats that can be readily deployed into the marine environment for habitat restoration.

 

Explaining the background to research, the project leader Dr Richard Unsworth said; “Seagrass meadows are the ‘Prairies of the Sea’. Restoring seagrass can be really important for fisheries productivity as these habitats provide critically important nursery habitat for a range of commercially important fish species (e.g. Cod, Pollock and Whiting). By growing seagrass into mats from seedlings we hope to create sections of resilient habitat that can be used to restore the biodiversity and productivity of marine habitats in the UK, in turn helping our beleaguered fish stocks.”

These productive coastal habitats exist in sheltered shallow water bays typical of the estuaries and embayment’s of the UK so are subjected to a range of human activities. Despite their importance various estimates suggest that over the last 100 years the UK has lost over 50% of its seagrass meadows and many seagrass meadows in the UK continue to be under threat and are being continually degraded. Seagrasses are not just important for fisheries and biodiversity, they also help trap and store carbon dioxide, filter the coastal seawater and help stabilise our coasts.

Seagrass coir mats

Dr Unsworth explained that the Swansea and Salix research team would be conducting trial deployments of these seagrass mats in summer 2014 in collaboration with seagrass experts at Natural England. A series of different methods will be examined in order to determine the most effective methods to enable future large scale restoration projects.

 

 

Explaining the novelty of the research, Dr Richard Unsworth said; “Various small scale trials of restoring seagrass habitats in the UK have previously been conducted , but these have been based on transplanting of seagrass ‘sods’ and have been unsuccessful. By using seed based methods first trialled in the US that increase meadow resilience, and adapting technology commonly used in rivers for deploying freshwater plants our team hopes to undertake the first successful UK seagrass restoration. “

Further information about our research and regular updates can be found at: www.facebook.com/seagrassecosystems

Picture 1: Seagrass seedlings growing underwater in the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research at Swansea University. Seeds were collected from Helford River in Cornwall and will be planted back into Helford River in summer 2014.

Picture 2: Coir mat pre germination (covered in seagrass seeds).