On 13th April we welcomed Dr Richard Unsworth, founding director of UK charity Project Seagrass, for the last of our 2022 Winter Talks: Seagrass restoration: Bringing biodiversity back to our seas.
Project Seagrass, which is supported by the Golden Bottle Trust, is working to ‘push forward conservation, restoration and education around seagrasses’ in the UK. As Richard explained to our virtual audience, the charity was founded by a group of conservation scientists ‘to think about managing coastal resources, especially seagrass – educating kids, working with fisherman and yachties, finding a sensible medium to help conduct conservation with people, not against them.’
Seagrass, we learned, is a vital yet underappreciated component of ocean ecosystems, present all around the world except in the Arctic, with many varieties of species. It has a remarkable capacity to sequester carbon and functions much like terrestrial plants, producing pollen and flowers. Indeed, biodiversity in areas of seagrass can be 30-40 times greater than in ‘barren’ coastal areas and, like terrestrial plants, seagrass needs access to light and carbon dioxide; favourable water conditions are therefore crucial for a thriving meadow.
‘It is possible,’ Richard warned, ‘that the UK has lost 90% of its seabed ecosystems in the last 80 years, with a definite 50% decline since the 1960s. Bottom trawling, anchoring, pollution, and run-off have all contributed to leaving UK seas more vulnerable to biodiversity loss, climate change, and coastal erosion.’
Our customary Q&A session drew out the importance of bringing communities onside and ended on an encouraging note. Richard told us about a promising, still-unfolding restoration project going on in Dale, West Wales, in which fishermen, boat owners and others have been inspired to make a difference. ‘Once they understand the process and benefits of seagrass conservation,’ he concluded, ‘people generally want to do the right thing’.