Joy and relief were the overriding emotions for many of us this summer as lockdown eased. It was the opportunity to get back to the ocean, and to see family, friends and loved ones.
However, for the team at Project Seagrass it also represented the first opportunity to check on the status of the 750,000 seagrass seeds that had been planted over winter. So, how were those Seeds of Hope looking now? Luckily our man in the underwater meadow, Richard Lilley, was on hand to provide us with an update.
This was the first photo which documents progress from our first season. It is a photo now etched into our memories because for us it captured a true moment of delight. It may not look like much, just a few humble shoots, but to us, and all the project team it represents a new beginning, the birth of a new meadow, and the culmination of years of work.
(For those who may be new to our story please check out this WWF video update on how we have been using seagrass to fight the climate emergency. This pilot project was launched in January 2019 and we are now in our second season)
Seeing the seagrass seedlings growing so well in July gave the whole team a huge motivational boost for our second summer of seed collection. With the impact of COVID we have had to scale back our operations this year, and like all organisations we’ve had to introduce new physical distancing protocols for our work. The impact of this was keenly felt as we were not able to work with our community on the project in the way we would normally have wished to do so. We hope to be able to reinstate this element of our work as the project continues because it is such a central element of why we have chosen to work the way we do.
The team entering the water at Porthdinllaen for another morning of seed collection.
Despite the challenges of the ‘new-normal’ we were thrilled to be back out in the water again. The first two weeks of August were spent at Porthdinllaen in the Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau Special Area of Conservation in Wales. The seagrass meadow here is the largest in Wales and represents both what we have lost elsewhere, but also the end goal of what we might hope to see again. We have been working at this site since 2013 and so have built up some great friendships in the community. It was reassuring to see the familiar friendly faces that gave us confidence that the ‘new-normal’ wouldn’t be so different after all.
The second half of August was exciting because it was new. This year we set up a new partnership with the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve in Northumberland where we were able to welcome new volunteers to the reserve. At this point I want to put a special shout out to Claie Nqobi Dixon who travelled all the way up to join us from the Cornwall Collage campus at the Eden Project. Claire is studying for an MSc in Ecological Restoration and so I was thrilled to be able to share our project with her. Hopefully we can foster this new friendship to work together to grow the marine restoration community in the south-west - watch this space!
Families who fieldwork - Richard Lilley with his partner and baby daughter.
My final update from this summer is closer to home. In March, my wife and I welcomed a daughter into the world. Becoming a parent has certainly offered us both a fresh perspective on life, and the challenge of balancing fieldwork with fatherhood has been felt acutely at times. However, we both have the desire to be the best parents we can be, which firmly entails being positive role models for our ocean planet. Indeed, our first summer together has been a filled with joy, and the opportunity to spend so much time down on the coast with our daughter has been a blessing. I look forward to continuing this journey together and sharing you another underwater update later in the year.
Stay safe all
Words by Richard Lilley
Photos courtesy of Project Seagrass