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Underwater Update Summer 2021

Seawilding. How does that speak to you? The Seawilding movement, which ‘officially’ began in the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot, is a community-led progressive approach to conservation. Seawilding is about enabling natural processes to shape the sea, to repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded seascapes.
Seawilding is about people working with nature’s natural rhythms to create wilder, more biodiverse habitats, to encourage nature rich ecosystems that will ultimately benefit both people and planet. 

 

Diver walking out of the ocean

A volunteer emerges from snorkelling in the seagrass meadows at Loch Craignish

The charity Seawilding were born out of the Community Association of CROMACH, and the growing team are working with coastal communities across Scotland to restore degraded inshore marine habitats to enhance biodiversity, improve water quality and sequester carbon. The damage to these inshore marine habitats has been caused by activities such as scallop dredging, aquaculture, anchoring and pollution.

This summer at Project Seagrass we have partnered with Seawilding on Scotland’s first seagrass restoration project. With scientific support from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (one of the oldest oceanographic organisations in the world) and financial backing from NatureScot (Scotland’s Nature Agency), we are working in collaboration to build community capacity around seagrass restoration techniques. By building a ‘marine restoration skillset’ to ensure we have robust and connected ecosystems, ultimately we will be more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

 

Drone flying at sunset used for drone survey

From drone surveys to sampling for genetic analysis, the Seawilding community have been at the beating heart of restoration activities in Argyll.

This summer I’ve turned on the news to see nations burning one minute, then flooding the next, and with COP26 arriving in Glasgow this Autumn, both the climate and nature emergencies have never felt more present. Indeed, there has never been a more urgent need to revive damaged ecosystems than now.

There is hope though, and it’s coming from the very top! The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change, and prevent a mass extinction. However, it will only succeed if everyone plays a part. 

United Nations decade on ecosystem restoration

Cynically you may ask how is this decade different from those institutional decades that have come before? Well for a start this is about a mass movement, it’s a decade with a hashtag! It’s a decade designed at the top to disrupt the status quo, to shift the narrative and change our culture. It’s both a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ initiative, it’s a decade born out of painful failures and lessons learnt. 

#GenerationRestoration is about equity and empowerment. It’s about directing a collective willpower towards a common good. It’s about intergenerational community mobilisation and shifting behaviours. Ultimately, it’s about creating a culture of restoration, and therefore it has a strategy that calls on artists, storytellers, producers, musicians, and connectors to join the #GenerationRestoration. 

 

Children pooring collected seagrass into a tub

Delivering for the future: Ecosystem restoration is an intergenerational activity, it’s about long-term thinking where every step, no matter how small, is progress.

Dan Burgess spoke to this collectivism in his recent piece reflecting on Sea7 - ‘Who Speaks For the Ocean?’. As always, Dan eloquently guides us through his writing right to the very heart of the issue; the challenge before us is that, both as individuals, and as communities, we need to change the narrative.

“Stories aren't frivolous entertainment, but are the coding that shape what we believe, what we choose, who we are, the way we think, feel and act every day. Stories shape our understanding of the world and the way we act in it. And therefore, stories shape the world itself.”

In his writing Dan emphasises the role we all have to play in shifting the narrative. 

“…everyone of us has a role to play - brands, citizens, designers, writers, journalists, entrepreneurs, media owners, artists, activists, scientists, conservationists, teachers, content creators, film makers, parents - because we all tell stories everyday. We decide everyday what words come out of our mouths, on our social feeds, in our communities” and workplaces, through the platforms and channels we communicate through, through the things we create.”

And that brings me back to Seawilding.

Seawilding is a movement that speaks for the ocean. It’s not simply a ‘one-off’ project. Seawilding has no start and no end date. Sure Seawilding.org is a registered Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, filed with the OSCR, and complete with all the requisite legal paperwork. But the reality is that the name Seawilding speaks to us on many levels, rational and emotional. Seawilding are the physical embodiment of something much bigger, they are an idea made physical. What’s more Seawilding represents hope, and to me they are a vision for what marine ecosystem restoration could, and I believe should, be all about.

Hope is central to the Seawilding story, as their journey was born out of a designation of HOPE (quite literally!) with the designation of the Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot in June 2019. Mission Blue Hope Spots are special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. These Hope Spots are championed globally by local communities whom Mission Blue support with communications, expeditions, and scientific advisory. The idea is that anyone can nominate a site special to him or her. The criteria? Simply identify a site that gives HOPE. Collectively these Hope Spots are creating a global wave of community support for ocean conservation, and it’s hopefully one that leaders and policymakers simply can’t ignore.

 

The Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot: Mission Blue Hope Spots Map

The Argyll Coast and Islands Hope Spot: Mission Blue Hope Spots are a catalyst to greater understanding, appreciation, and protection of our marine environment. They have a global reach.

This summer Seawilding has certainly put hope well and truly on the agenda again, adding seagrass ecosystem restoration skills to their existing native oyster restoration capacity (by the end of this year, the team will have restored over 300,000 native oysters to the Loch, with another 700,000 to follow over the next few years). However, it’s not just about the numbers, it’s the way this restoration is achieved. For many people, the thought of starting, or even engaging with an existing restoration project may feel a little intimidating. It’s certainly been said to me that there can be an impression that it’s too complicated for most people and that too much science is needed! Not true! I’m always keen to emphasise that it’s not an inaccessible activity, and that this is particularly true when it comes to seagrass. 

 

Underwater shot of someone snorkeling

A young girl snorkelling over the seagrass in Dunvulaig Bay, Loch Craignish, Argyll.

Children as young as seven have been out in the seagrass meadows, picking seeds with Seawilding for restoring degraded meadows. In essence seagrass restoration at this scale is just underwater gardening; picking seeds from existing plants and then planting them where we think the seeds will grow best. When it comes to restoration there is no substitute for participation, as people learn so much just by doing and from experiencing the process for themselves.

 

Seagrass seed pods open on a table

Ocean Literacy: Through personal experience the Seawilding team learnt that the seagrass seed pods in this picture are; immature (left), mature (middle) and dropping (right), The learning here? Next time simply pick more seed pods that look like those.

There’s an old Greek proverb that translates as “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This philosophy speaks to the Seawilding ideology that there's a depth of meaning that we can bring to our lives when we take action for something greater than ourselves. 

So I encourage you to take a moment and think about your own story so far, and ask yourself if you are writing for yourself a story for life. Whilst the planting of a hessian bag full of seeds is clearly a visible act of restoration, it’s just the end of a journey of decisions that were taken to reach that point. We can all make changes in our own lives that will contribute to the cultural transformation and goals of #GenerationRestoration that we are all trying to achieve. In whatever line of work you find yourself in, know you can make a difference. Let us all choose love stories over horror stories and join the global movement to restore our world.

 

The first hessian bags of seagrass seeds deployed on the seabed in Loch Craignish

Seeds of Hope: The first hessian bags of seagrass seeds have been deployed on the seabed in Loch Craignish.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a global rallying cry to heal our planet. What will you restore?

 

Words by Dr Richard Lilley (Project Seagrass) | Images courtesy of Philip Price (Seawilding)


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