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Underwater Update | Spring 2021

Seagrass meadows provide valuable nursery habitat to over one fifth of the world’s largest 25 fisheries, and despite covering only 0.1 per cent of the ocean floor these meadows are highly efficient carbon sinks, storing up to 18 per cent of the world’s oceanic carbon.
As we learned at Sea7, Project Seagrass are working to protect and restore these incredibly valuable ecosystems. Below, Dr RJ Lilley provides us with a spring update on the project and how everyone can get involved with mapping the UK's seagrass meadows.

 

Marine Meadows of Cornwall: A film by Lewis Jefferies in collaboration with Project Seagrass and LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES.

 

[Marine Meadows of Cornwall: A film by Lewis Jefferies in collaboration with Project Seagrass and LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES.]

 

Spring is often heralded as the season of new beginnings, and this year it certainly felt like a new beginning for all of us. With the pressure cooker of lockdown easing, the days stretching out, and our days here in the UK warming up, it’s been easy to find ourselves feeling a little better about the world. On March 20th the northern hemisphere officially entered ‘Spring’, but for many of us the season is more than just an astronomical construct, it’s the boost in our energy levels that feed those feelings of optimism, of growth, and renewal.

So it was on St Piran’s Day that I reached out to Lewis Michael Jefferies, a talented West Country based filmmaker about creating a seagrass film for the G7. I’d been sitting on the idea of a film for a while. We had initially been wanting to create a film to showcase the final results of our work with WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue in Wales, and create a Call To Action for more people to get involved with marine restoration projects, but winters cloak and the ongoing travel restrictions had put the film in my ‘too hard’ box, it had become an idea to revisit when conditions improved.

Yet there is something about the Spring Equinox that has always motivated me, it’s become a sign of the brighter days to come, the happy memories of sand in my feet, salt in my hair and sunkissed skin. The nostalgia was real, I felt a real need to do something positive and proactive. My thoughts drifted back to the film, with the G7 coming to Cornwall then maybe there could be an opportunity to see how much we could achieve by working locally within Cornwall, could this be a great opportunity to showcase some of Cornwall’s seagrass meadows.

 

Biodiversity: the variety of life found in Cornwall’s seagrass meadows is exceptional. A simple snorkel or SCUBA dive in any one of them will reveal an abundance of life

 

[Biodiversity: the variety of life found in Cornwall’s seagrass meadows is exceptional. A simple snorkel or SCUBA dive in any one of them will reveal an abundance of life.]

 

I thought about it, it made sense. There is a lot to celebrate locally, Exeter University have been working closely with the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners on mapping and reducing pressures on local meadows, and Cornwall Council have been leading on a lot of progressive projects to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve local biodiversity. Then you’ve got those temples to biodiversity that is the Eden Project - a focus on Cornwall as a place would be a good fit, so I pitched the idea to Lewis.

3 months. Could we create a film for the G7 in that time? We wanted the film ready for World Oceans Day on the 8th June, but at this stage we simply had an idea. We had no budget and no script. But we didn’t have to do it alone.

"One person is not going to save the ocean. It's going to be all of us, working together collaboratively."  - Inka Creswell at Sea7

Lewis was totally behind the idea, “I will try to make this work with whatever you can raise”, and so we set out with a plan to reach out to friends and networks to collaborate. Did others want to help make this film happen? I spoke to our friends over at Feel Good Drinks, they were on board in an instant. Right, let’s make this happen!

Throughout the winter I had been thinking of ways that Project Seagrass could better connect with the team down at LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES. ReMEDIES have been doing some great work all along the south coast focusing on how sensitive seabed habitats are impacted by recreational activities, and most recently they’ve completed some extensive seagrass restoration work in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park. Could this video be an opportunity to make a joint statement on the need for better management of our marine meadows?

It was, ReMEDIES were also onboard, and it wasn’t long before several other businesses, organisations and individuals rallied to support us too. Our video was happening, great news, but what did we want to say?

 

Coastal canaries: British seagrass meadows are found in our sheltered, shallow coastal seas. The status of seagrasses can warn us about the health of our coastal ecosystem.

 

[Coastal canaries: British seagrass meadows are found in our sheltered, shallow coastal seas. The status of seagrasses can warn us about the health of our coastal ecosystem.]

 

For the G7 we were really targeting policy, change that would ensure the protection and recovery of our seagrass ecosystems. In the UK we’ve easily lost 50% of our seagrass meadows in the last century (as much as 92%) and this trend can’t continue! We also wanted to highlight the multiple ‘ecosystem services’ that seagrass meadows provide, but how was hat going to work in a film? We needed something that would resonate with people, and provide what Swati term’s that ‘heart connection’.

"One of the big drivers at sea change is around WHY you need to conserve something, why it needs to be saved. In my years of experience... I realised that ultimately what you need is a heart connection."  - Swati Thiyagarajan at Sea7

Time to reach out again. We wanted a narrator who could speak with conviction and adapt our script to tell a story. We also wanted a musical composition that would support the visuals and really help us to tell the story. Of course, we wanted the moon on a stick! Were we asking too much?

And yet sometimes when you feel like you are asking for the impossible, things happen. The deadline was tight, but the conviction was strong, and it wasn’t long before the eloquent Charlotte Young came on board for the narration, and the exceptionally gifted David Williamson offered to compose the music. Some things are just meant to be!

 

A seagrass meadow teeming with life

 

"The ocean has the power to reverse climate change if we help it." - Kevin Whilden at Sea7

Now I’ve never been involved in producing a film before, certainly nothing like this one. On reflection it was a bold call to commission a film during lockdown, with no budget, and with just 3 months of it needing to go live! However, I genuinely believed if we got it right then it could have some genuine impact, and so it was time to be brave and be the ocean activist I want to be. I knew personally I wanted (and still want) to become better at learning how to tell stories that create change. It’s the reason we set up Project Seagrass in the first place; to tell the stories of seagrass meadows and to raise the profile of these beautiful marine habitats.

I was also hopeful, I knew that we wouldn’t be on our own on this journey, the growing #GenerationRestoration movement surrounding the UN Decade On Ecosystem Restoration has shown me that. People care, and people also want to take steps on their own journey’s to be the change they want to see.

“People care, we can change, we need to show the possibilities as well as the problems, we can write ourselves the better ending.”  - James Honeyborne at Sea7

So how do we write ourselves a better ending?

Well we can start by doing something as simple as helping us to map our seagrass meadows. We don’t have eyes everywhere, and each and every one of you reading this will have some local knowledge of your patch which is unique to you.

So, to harness and tap into this collective knowledge we’ve developed a conservation and education tool that has already lead to the discovery of unmapped seagrass meadows right here in the UK.

With SeagrassSpotter, ocean activists around the world can become citizen scientists who contribute to marine conservation with just a few taps of their phone. We’ve made some important scientific breakthroughs with seagrass meadows in recent years, but they remain incredibly threatened and are still under-appreciated globally.

You can start your ocean activist journey by downloading the app and helping us to put seagrass meadows (quite literally!) on the map.

 

[Marine Meadows of Cornwall: A film by Lewis Jefferies in collaboration with Project Seagrass and LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES.]

 

I’ll end this update by repeating this.

There has never been a more urgent need to restore our planets damaged ecosystems.

Ecosystems support all life on Earth. It’s pretty simple, but the healthier our ecosystems, the healthier the planet and its people.

The next 10 years from 2021 to 2030 marks the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.

If we get this decade right we can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction, but it will only succeed if every single one of us plays a part.

We must unite to secure a sustainable future for our planet.

So in the words of Finisterre:

“It’s time to be bold, brave, and hopeful.”

Join the global movement to restore our world.

RJ x


Words by Dr Richard Lilley 
Images courtesy of Lewis Michael Jefferies


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