Saving seagrass isn’t just a pipefish dream
By Marie Seraphim
You may have noticed that here at the Scottish Seabird Centre, we’re not just coocoo about birds but about all marine life! We’ve recently joined forces with other organisations and community groups to restore seagrass and oysters in the Firth of Forth, this estuary teaming with wildlife that we call home. To learn more about the Restoration Forth project, check out our page and the press release. We are very proud to be part of this brilliant initiative and will soon be getting our hands dirty planting seagrass in East Lothian. Seagrass meadows have long been the ugly duckling of the marine conservation world, receiving a lot less attention than other marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangrove forests. But this is all about to change!
Seagrass habitats are teaming with life, hosting juveniles fishes, crabs, stalked jellyfish and other critters. They also have an important role in our fight against climate change as they are very good at capturing dissolved carbon. While some carbon is accumulated into the plant material itself, most of the stored carbon is actually deposited within the sediment below. Seagrasses are marine plants, and like all plants they have a root system that plays a huge role in stabilising the sea floor, thus locking in all that carbon and other floating particles into the ground. Seagrasses are threatened worldwide (this study estimates that an area the size of two football pitches is lost every hour), and Scotland is no exception. Historical records have shown that extensive seagrass meadows used to thrive here, however we seem to have lost quite a lot of them. The aim of this project is therefore to tackle seagrass loss by re-introducing seagrass seeds to sparse beds and speed up the recovery process.
And this is where I come in! Without further ado dear reader, I shall now introduce myself. My name is Marie, I’m a marine biologist and I’ve joined the Scottish Seabird Centre as Seagrass Restoration Officer to help achieve the objectives of the Restoration Forth project. Seagrass beds are incredible ecosystems, and I have spent many pleasant afternoons over the course of my career lazily snorkelling above lush meadows, occasionally spotting the odd pipefish or octopus, and generally feeling like a content manatee! The opportunity to aid seagrass restoration efforts was too good to pass and I joined the Seabird team a few weeks ago.
As part of this exciting job I get to explore Scotland’s seagrasses, survey the coast of East Lothian for existing patches in need of restoration, and mobilise troops to help us with our restoration efforts. At the moment, my time is split between mucking about in seagrass habitats, researching restoration techniques and preparing communication materials for some of our upcoming events. But of course, I’m not tackling all these important tasks by myself, I’m fortunate to be part of a terrific cross-organisational team; Lyle at the Ecology Centre is my counterpart Seagrass Restoration Officer up in Fife and Esther is the Seagrass Lead for Scotland at Project Seagrass. We are also collaborating with a whole array of great organisations including the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, the Marine Conservation Society, Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, Heart of Newhaven Community, Wardie Bay Beachwatch, the Edinburgh Shoreline Project, and the whole shebang led by WWF. Lucky us!
What are the next steps? Well, first things first, we have to identify suitable sites for restoration activities. In order to do this, we need to find out where existing patches of seagrasses are located around East Lothian, and how they are faring. And the great news is, you can help too! It’s as simple as grabbing your wellies and heading to the coast. If you’re out and about at low tide and find some seagrass, please snap a picture with your smartphone (with GPS enabled) and upload it to the SeagrassSpotter app (this can also be done from a computer). Seagrasses are usually found in muddy and sandy habitats on wave-sheltered coasts. Have a look below to see what to hunt for! Seagrass leaves appear in spring and develop into dense beds over intertidal flats in summer. The blades then stop growing in aumtumn and are shed over winter, leaving only their roots within the sediment, patiently waiting for the next growth season. Below you can see both species, the larger common eelgrass (Zostera marina, in the middle) and dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltii, bottom left) side by side.
We are just getting started with our seagrass restoration journey, but do keep an eye out for future events. If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining our mailing list here. By signing up, you’ll get regular field updates from me, notifications about upcoming events and more importantly, you’ll receive our calls for volunteers! We will need lots of help collecting, processing and planting seagrass seeds later in the year. So do sign-up to ensure you don’t miss out on the seagrass fun.
Watch this space for more seagrass-y blogs from me. We thank you for your support, and for cod's sake help us save our seagrass!
This project is possible through the support of Scottish Power Foundation and other funders.