As autumn draws to a close and the cold grip of winter takes hold, it brightened our day to receive another update from the team at Project Seagrass - as they continue their mission to map and replant seagrass meadows around the UK.
Navigating both the colder temperatures and the pervasive restrictions we've been enjoying this year, the team has been hard at work - collecting seeds, planning for the year to come and planting the project's 1,000,000th seed.
[Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross: Autumn is a wonderful time to enjoy our seas. Our coastal waters are warm, our seas are full of life, and of course the opportunity for a surf is never far away.]
I think Autumn has got to be my favourite season. The harvest season on our islands is one of bounty, and the lurid leaves and russet tones of this time of year bestow on us a visual warmth. We begin to welcome the crimsons and scarlets indoors as the nights close in, the temperatures plummet, and we gear up for the festive season.
On land it is of course Spring that is the season of renewal, of new life and new energy. However, for me it is the late Summer and early Autumn which fill me with hope for the months and years ahead. Why? Well, it’s at this time that our seagrass meadows are full of the fish that we collectively call the ‘young of the year’, or ‘0-group’; those fish in their first year of life. I guess for us seeing a baby cod in a seagrass meadow in the Autumn, is the marine biologist equivalent of seeing a lamb in the field in Spring!
Autumn is a challenging time to be out working in our seas. Up in Scotland we’ve been patiently working in ‘weather windows’; surveying, monitoring and mapping Scottish seagrass meadows as part of a genetic connectivity study we are collaborating on with NatureScot and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. From Shetland to the Solway Firth we’ve been collecting information that we hope will inform some community led seagrass restoration activities next summer.
[Reef Beach, Isle of Lewis: As surfers we all know the feeling of trying to make the most of a weather window, it’s just for work I look for the coastal calm rather than the storm.]
In Wales our restoration activities have once again picked up pace (despite the challenges of working around localised restrictions and national lockdowns). Indeed, we were able to celebrate a milestone in our restoration work in Dale with the planting of our one millionth seed! We’ve also started some seagrass meadow ‘repair’ work in at Porthdinllaen in the Pen Llŷn a’r Sarnau Special Area of Conservation.
For this work we are essentially looking to plant seagrass specifically in those areas of the meadow where seagrass has been lost either by anchoring, or from older non-seagrass friendly mooring systems.
[Dale, Pembrokeshire: Nobody was around to see it, but this is the moment the 1,000,000th seed entered the water for our Seagrass Ocean Rescue project in Dale.]
As I write this, we’re nearing December, and it’s certainly been a year to forget in many respects! However, in several ways I am way more optimistic now, as we head towards 2021, than I ever was heading into 2020.
2021 represents the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the start of the #GenerationRestoration movement, and a real opportunity to revisit the way we interact both with our planet and with each other. What’s more, in my world I see huge opportunities for shared learning and collaboration as communities across the home nations start working towards the rewilding of our seas.
[Horgabost, Harris: A window of opportunity presents itself for fieldwork in the Western Isles. With short days, and unsettled conditions, it pays to take any opportunity you can.]
At Project Seagrass we want to help facilitate communities with the restoration of 30km2 of seagrass across the UK by 2030, and to work with partners to help with the restoration of other marine habitats too, like oyster reefs and mussel beds. This next decade really is the time to take action to restore our planets biodiversity, to tackle the climate crisis and to bring nature back. However, for #GenerationRestoration to succeed it will need us all to play our part.
So until next time, stay safe, stay positive and dream big! I’ve got a feeling that 2021 is going to be a great year…