Project Seagrass

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Intern Spotlight: Lauren Clayton

As a Marine Biology student at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, I was lucky enough to be accepted on to a Maters Work Placement. This course allows a few selected students to take a year between the 3rd and 4th year of their degree to experience working for an organisation while also performing research. At the end of the placement I continue back into my final honours year and I will then graduate with a masters. I am currently working with Project Seagrass as an intern for my placement and will be working with them in this capacity until the summer. My current work involves conducting a meta-analysis of fish assemblages in seagrass habitats around the world. This involves searching for research papers that contain any data about fish species that have been observed in seagrass beds and then adding this data to our own database. I have been organising this database in order to make it easy to navigate and interpret and I have also been verifying the data that has already been entered. I am now onto the stage of searching for any papers that have been missed or published after the original searches were made so that we can ensure that all the possible work with the data we want have been found and collated in our database. This way when we are finished we can say that the fish species mentioned in our database are found in seagrass habitats in certain locations with absolute certainty. In addition to this, I’m also working on a project that involves analysing videos that have been filmed in Indonesian seagrass beds. Baited Remote Underwater Video systems, or BRUV’s, are camera systems that are left underwater, to attract fish with the use of bait. Analysing this footage is a tiresome task, especially with each video lasting 30 minutes. Analysis of this is done using special software which allows you to tag and count individual fish species in each frame – again very time consuming. This gives us the MaxN. The MaxN is the maximum number of one species of fish in a frame of the video at a given time. This isn’t the most exciting work and I tend to find myself daydreaming that I am scuba diving in Indonesia while watching certain stretches of video – many with very little fish. A fish investigates the bait As part of my internship I’ve also had the opportunity to conduct my own research. Once written up this will then contribute to my degree, and once complete will help secure my masters. For this project I am using the videos collected in Indonesia and analysing them in a similar way to determine if there are fish species or assemblages that show habitat specificity towards certain seagrass species, or seagrass beds cover. I am hoping to see some sort of connection with this by only time will tell. Some videos lacked any fish Back in Feburary I conducted my first SeagrassWatch exercise in Porthdinllaen, Wales – I can spell this place, but can’t pronounce it! It was a nice opportunity to get out of the office for a few days and experience some field work, even if it did mean getting up ridiculously early and getting very cold and wet. As part of the trip we also performed some educational outreach with a primary school from the area. They learnt about seagrass and its importance and they also learnt about what lives in the seagrass and had a fantastic and fun day out at the beach – sand animal building was a requirement of course! I was even trusted to have a go with the Drone, which was also great fun! Drone flying! In addition to everything else, I’m also researching Scottish seagrass during my internship, in an attempt to map out its rough distribution so that I can find some good spots in Scotland to start my own SeagrassWatch monitoring, expanding the range of Project Seagrass sites to include Scotland. We’re going to be involved with the Glasgow Science festival and will hopefully put on some events over the summer around Glasgow.

Don’t let the UK become a fish out of water: For the sake of our seas let’s stay in the EU

Our oceans and coastal resources have never been more important or under greater threat. Marine biodiversity has rapidly declined in the last 40 years, so much so, that marine populations have almost halved during this time. The very marine habitats and biodiversity that help ensure we have food to eat and oxygen to breath are being degraded the world over. At the same time, marine litter is on the rise, and issues such as climate change place an increasing level of pressure on the ability of our oceans to remain productive. In the UK the marine environment provides enormous prosperity and jobs, this amounts to a GVA of £38.5 bn and upwards of 290k jobs. At Project Seagrass we know all too well the value of our marine environment and the threats facing seagrass meadows, not just here in the UK, but across Europe and indeed across the entire planet. We exist to communicate the importance of these productive systems, and work to protect these ecosystems so they can remain productive in perpetuity. Although there is a lot to be worried about in our oceans and coastal seas there is also a lot to be optimistic about, especially in Europe. The European Union’s marine territory is the largest in the world, covering 20 million square kilometres of water – nearly five times the size of its land area. By working together, countries in the EU are making progress that is beginning to halt and reverse the trends of marine habitat loss, marine plastics, pollution, overfishing, and biodiversity loss. There are a lot of problems and a lot left to fix but the EU is a driving force behind positive action. In 1992 the EU adopted the Habitats Directive, which aims to protect vulnerable natural habitats and species (including seagrass), together with the Birds Directive, which has been creating Special Protection Areas (SPAs) since 1979, it remains at the very core of EU nature conservation efforts. These are key examples of how the EU is helping our oceans and has resulted in an expansive range of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) around the UK coast. Many of these SACs contain extensive seagrass meadows. We’ve also had the Water Framework Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Bathing Water Directive that have all contributed to improving the health of our coastal seas from centuries of degradation. The MSDF is now a major EU force pushing for better Marine Protected Area coverage, Good Environmental Status (GES) and spatial planning of our coastal seas. The EU is also working to increase sustainability of our fisheries and to push the international community to undertake improved governance of the World’s Oceans. Since EU policy was reformed in 2002, the health of many fish stocks has improved. Indeed, by 2011 the majority of assessed fisheries were considered to be sustainably fished. Even the infamous North Sea Atlantic Cod, long the “poster child” of overfishing in our waters, is benefiting not just from the protection of our seagrass meadows (an important juvenile habitat), but from sustainable fishing measures. Scientists are optimistic that given its current rate of recovery the stock could be certified as sustainable as soon as next year. Without this array of EU legislation the UK government would likely have done very little for our coastal seas. In fact the UK government has repeatedly stalled on action over the years and had to be prosecuted by the EU on a number of occasions in order to take the necessary action for a clean environment. Often the only action the UK government does take to help is dependent upon EU resources such as the EU life programme. When the media and politicians discuss ‘EU Red Tape’ they often refer to the very legislation that is helping to protect our environment, keep us safe and ensure people’s rights. This is not a hindrance it’s a help. We should also not underestimate the contribution that the UK academic community has made to marine conservation and management. This is a sector of the UK economy that is heavily dependent upon EU wide collaborative funding and knowledge exchange. Science doesn’t happen in the UK alone, scientific progress is based on the scientific community learning and progressing together. Such progress ultimately has benefits for how we learn to sustainably manage and exploit the resources that our oceans provide. Remaining in the UK will help push forward the science needed to conserve our oceans for future generations. The seas around the UK need to be part of Europe. The so called ‘Brexit’ would be a catastrophe for our coastal seas, and put these marine resources that are so critical for our long-term future in jeopardy. Our oceans in Europe need a united EU, with the UK as a leading partner in governing these critically important resources. At Project Seagrass we believe that continued UK membership of the EU is vital for the protection of our oceans, coastal seas and specifically our seagrass meadows into the future. At Project Seagrass we recognise that the EU isn’t perfect but we also understand that we have to be very careful what we wish for in terms of the impact leaving the EU would have on our oceans and coastal seas. It’s evident that UK politics has a tendency to be short term and we’re constantly reminded that the natural environment is seen as an impediment to economic growth. EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging the UK government to be more long term in policy, protecting our environments not just for us, but for future generations to come. We’re voting not just for our oceans, but our children’s, and grandchildren’s oceans. At Project Seagrass we believe that voting to stay in the EU is a vote to sustain our environment, including our seas. Download this statement here.

Where is all the seagrass? Project Seagrass wants you to help!

Help us record the seagrass near you At Project Seagrass we created a conservation tool that could lead to new discoveries about one of the ocean’s most underappreciated habitats — seagrass. With our new phone app and website, Seagrass Spotter, ocean enthusiasts around the British Isles can become citizen scientists who contribute to marine conservation, with just a few taps of their phone. We’ve made important scientific breakthroughs with seagrass in recent years, but they remain incredibly threatened and are still underappreciated in our British Isles. Seagrass remains threatened and under appreaciated in our British Isles The Problem Seagrass meadows in the British Isles have recently been highlighted for their value as fish nurseries for commercially important species (e.g. Pollack, Herring Atlantic Cod, Plaice), this adds to our existing knowledge of their high ecosystem service value throughout Europe. Despite their importance seagrass meadows are in a degraded and perilous state in the British Isles having experienced significant losses over time. Estimates suggest that between 25% and 80% of UK seagrass has been lost since the 1930s with minimal signs of recovery. Significant threats in the British Isles include direct physical damage (e.g. from boating or trampling), increased sedimentation and poor water quality. Confounding the problem is a lack of public awareness of the existence and value of seagrass meadows. Seagrass Spotter With Seagrass Spotter, we want to map and record more of the seagrass here in the British Isles to be able to help protect it for future generations. Seagrass Spotter seeks to expand the number of people studying seagrass from a handful of scientists to hundreds and potentially thousands of ‘citizen scientists.’ As part of efforts to build a sustainable monitoring network, and by leveraging the enthusiasm of everyone from fishers to SCUBA divers and from wildlife enthusiasts to tourists, we’ll create a more comprehensive picture of seagrass meadows around our British Isles. To protect our critically important seagrass meadows we need to first know where they are, understand their importance, and know the things that might damage them. Whilst the British Isles has a proud history of biological recording, seagrasses have rarely figured in that data collection. We want to change that. When we don’t know where seagrasses are, then these habitats that provide so many important functions to our coastal seas can disappear without anyone even noticing. Studying seagrass is challenging. It requires time, energy, funding and experts willing to conduct research. Governments, Universities, NGO’s all try and do this vital mapping work but it’s too expensive and time consuming, especially in an era of austerity. Relying on data only gathered by experts leaves a huge deficit in our information and this is where citizen scientists come in; observations made by members of the public can help bridge the gap in our knowledge, as in many areas of the British Isles basic distribution information is still badly needed. The idea is simple and we’re inviting the public to upload photos of seagrass from known locations around the British Isles using either the phone app or directly on the website. Together with submitting photos we’re also asking contributors to answer some simple questions about the seagrass at the site. However, we don’t expect contributors to have prior knowledge of marine biology and the website and app will provide all the information you may need. The phone app is available from Google Play (iPhone version to be released early May) and the website is accessible through any format. Please take a look at for more details or to download the app search ‘Seagrass Spotter’ in Google Play or follow this link here. This application is currently only applicable for use in the geographic area of the British Isles but we’re currently looking to find sponsorship to turn this tool into a global resource.

Seagrass Provides Easter Eggcitement

Seagrass meadows provide a suitable environment for eggstraordinary creatures to lay and secure their weird and wonderful eggs. As its Easter, we thought it would be a nice opportunity to introduce you to eggs that can be found in seagrass meadows around our coast. Cuttlefish eggs or “sea grapes” attached to blades of Zostera marina (Photo: Michiel Vos | The charismatic cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, is a common visitor to seagrass meadows around the British Isles. Each spring, cuttlefish migrate inshore to shallow bays and estuaries to mate, where the females their eggs. The small black eggs are usually set in bunches, and because of their appearance, are generally called “sea grapes”. These eggs are all of a similar size, about 15 to 25 mm long and can be found beyond the low spring tide mark attached to seagrass blades. Once hatched, these eggstra special creatures are the size of a finger nail and can regularly be seen hiding amongst seagrass leaves during summer months. Netted dog whelk egg sacks on Zostera marina (Photo: Paul Kay) Another special type of egg found in seagrass is that of the netted dog whelk, Nassarius reticulates. These miniature egg capsules are generally vase-shaped and usually attached in rows on seagrasses leaves. The transparent capsules have up to 300 eggs each and after a month they hatch into larvae that live in the plankton for two months. Three sea hares (Aplysia punctata) whithin a Zostera marina meadow, above (Photo: Michiel Vos | and sea hare egg srings, below. Not quite the Easter bunny, but the sea hare, Aplysia punctata, is also a common sight amongs seagrass leaves. This large mollusc is typically found on the sea-bed grazing on algae, often amongst seagrass where they leave their yellowish pink egg strings during the autumn-spring breeding season. Large egg masses from shelled Ophistobranch can also be spotted on leaves. Why not try a different kind of egg hunt this Easter. Happy hunting.

Reflecting on the #PeoplesProjects: We’ll continue to push for “Mission SEA”

Back in 2015 we entered the #PeoplesProjects, a competition held by the Big Lottery Fund and ITV to win up to £50,000 of National Lottery money. The Peoples Projects aimed to give organisations the chance to build upon previous projects they had completed with help from the Awards For All funding scheme. At the time we didn’t even expect to make it past the first round, but you’ve got to be in it to win it, right? We thought long and hard about how Project Seagrass could make a difference to peoples lives. Although as an organisation we’re devoted to conserving seagrass ecosystems, it’s a well known fact that we depend on our marine environment. For this reason we came up with Mission SEA, which aimed to bring the ‘coast to the classroom’ and the ‘classroom to the coast’ to engage Wales’ children with our marine natural heritage. The education scheme we proposed, which would have involved 15,000 children from the counties of Gwynedd, Ceredigion and the Isle of Anglesey, sought to teach children about the resources that our seas provide, whilst inspiring them to become future guardians of our oceans. Mission SEA is about inspiring children to protect our marine environment We were absolutely delighted to make it to the final 5, and after a tough two weeks of campaigning, we’re gutted to say that we didn’t make the top 3. The other projects we were up against were as deserving as any and we wish them all the very best for the future. Reflecting on our campaign, we’ve learnt a lot, and regardless of whether we won or not, we valued the experience, exposure and support more than anything. The support we gained for our project was overwhelming and we’d like to thank each and every one of you that voted for us. Although we didn’t receive the £50,000 we needed, our Mission SEA isn’t over yet! Seagrass meadows around our British Isles have recently been shown to be in a ‘perilous state’. Mission SEA is more than a project; it’s built on a philosophy that education is key to saving our planet. By focusing on seagrass, the importance of marine habitats can be explained using things that children understand, from the golden sand of our beaches to the range of fish in our chip shops. Seagrass is an ideal focus because it’s important for sustaining our fisheries and absorbing vast amounts of CO2, whilst also providing a home for charismatic animals like seahorses. Education is key to saving our planet – getting children outdoors to experience nature is part of this. Green space is widespread across the UK and although it’s recommended schools should be ensuring that primary age children experience visits or are engaged with nature, a recent government funded study revealed that over 10% of children in England have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment in the last year. There is substantial growing evidence linking the natural environment with good physical health and psychological wellbeing and the ‘Biophilia Hypothesis’ states that the desire for contact with nature is partly innate. Our wealth as a nation and our individual wellbeing depend critically upon the environment. The marine environment provides us with resources essential for life and seagrass provides the processes that purify the air and water. The Welsh coastal environment alone supports over 52,000 jobs, provides around £5 billion total income to businesses in Wales and contributes to around £1.5billion of GDP to the economy of Wales. These values are hugely significant, yet the marine environment and the services it provides us are still under appreciated. There is a great potential to further increase these values through inspiring habitat and biodiversity conservation. As both physical activity and nature can positively affect wellbeing we hope that Mission SEA has the potential to leave a legacy, stimulating the next generation to appreciate the benefit of our natural coastline, while inspiring action for marine habitat and biodiversity conservation for the communities that depend on them. To Project Seagrass, the Peoples Projects was never a competition, it was never about winning or losing. We saw it as an opportunity for us to develop as an organisation, to grow stronger, more committed to our goal! Although we didn’t win the £50,000, we didn’t lose either. We’ll continue to push for our Mission SEA, to fight for the environment with no voice, and we’d love to invite you to join us. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

Project Seagrass Launch – Thank You

Yesterday evening, we hosted our official Project Seagrass launch event and its safe to say it was a blast. We were excited and thrilled to see so many faces, some old and some new – we couldn’t be sure how many of you would make it despite the RSVP! Back in 2012, as merely a seed (excuse the pun) in the minds of Benjamin Jones and Richard Lilley, the duo had no idea that this seed would develop into the fruiting body that is, Project Seagrass. With guidance from Richard Unsworth and later on, Leanne Cullen Unsworth, Project Seagrass embarked on a journey to develop a unique marine conservation charity, a proudly Welsh entity, with a global vision to make an impact on marine conservation. BBC’s Dr Rhys Jones officially launched the evening giving insights into where he first came across seagrass and how amazed he was by it (Photo: Josephine Wilde) The Project Seagrass journey, like seagrass itself, seems to have developed with a life of its own, slowly expanding its root system ensuring that its gone from strength to strength. The launch last night couldn’t have been possible without the partners that we’ve rooted ourselves with. Swansea University, and particularly SEACAMS, has been integral to our achievements to date, as has Cardiff Universities Sustainable Places Research Institute, whom without, last night would not have been possible. It also couldn’t have been possible without you. Without your support we would not be where we are today! We were genuinely moved to see so many of you taking an interest in Project Seagrass and caring so deeply about what we do. To those that came, we hope you enjoyed the experience, and that the crowd we managed to gather was a special mix of interesting people. We now have a chance of winning some much needed funding to continue our work and we’d be delighted to have your support once more. The Project Seagrass quiz gave people a chance to really think about some of the services thats seagrass provide, and why theyre important (Photo: Josephine Wilde) The evening was a chance to let people learn about some of our projects, like the newly released SeagrassSpotter app (Photo: Josephine Wilde) An array of resouces were available to look at, including our seagrass colouring book, a vital part of our SEA Programme (Photo: Josephine Wilde) It was a chance for people to learn (Photo: Josephine Wilde) Project Seagrass Director, Richard Unsworth, chatting to guests about our work (Photo: Josephine Wilde)

International Women’s Day – “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” #pledgeforparity

Today, the 8th March 2016, is International Women’s Day. The UN’s International Woman’s Day theme for 2016 is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”; in addition, an independent campaign, separate from the UN, is being run by financial firm EY (with other corporate partners) which is organising events around a #PledgeForParity hashtag. Today is of course a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Yet it is also a day to raise awareness of the need to urgently address gender inequalities, and take action to accelerate gender parity. In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133! This is, of course, completely unacceptable. We can, and must, pledge today to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly. For Project Seagrass it must be about helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, calling for gender-balanced leadership, and creating a culture where we respect and value differences. We must aim to develop an inclusive and flexible culture within our charity and to root out workplace bias, be it conscious or unconscious. At Project Seagrass each of us can be, and has been, a leader at different times and that is something that should be celebrated. For us, International Women’s Day is about publicly committing to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity within both our organisation, but also within our work. A women ventures home with fish that she has caught in coastal seagrass meadows of norther Mozambique (Photo: Benjamin Jones) We work in numerous regions across the globe and there is a common theme to all of them – a paucity of statistics available relating to the number of women involved in fisheries-related work, even though it is understood by all of us that women play critical roles in the sector. The roles that women play in the fisheries we work with often incorporate a wide range of activities, but these vary in time and place. Unfortunately, from what little research that has been done, much of the data does not capture the true multi faceted nature of work undertaken by women in fishing communities, and therefore even today few policies are formulated with the work conducted by women in mind. Indeed, it can be argued that the common thread that ties women who work in fisheries together globally is that their work is rarely seen as “productive”. Time and again it is perceived as having a low social value, often being seen as an extension to the “domestic” space and not productive work in its own right. In Northern Mozambique, Women are a key part of coatsal seagrass fisheries (Photo: Benjamin Jones) In reality, however, women contribute hugely to global fisheries; even in their marginailsied position, they often manage to perform multiple roles that straddle the home, the family, the community and the workplace. We must celebrate womens’ capacity to perform roles of both production and reproduction and create the social and cultural norms that recognize the values of these roles. Too often the production of life (reproduction) is not recognized as valuable, economic productivity and yet it is intrinsic to sustainable growth and development! We must redefine what is valuable by addressing the inequalities that exist between men and women, and it is here that we must #pledgeforparity In the spirit of celebration of International Women’s Day we would like to take this opportunity to thank both of our interns; Laura Pratt in Cardiff, and Lauren Clayton in Glasgow for all their hard work to date and for their contribution to what has been a great year of growth and development of Project Seagrass so far! We’d also like to thank our Director Leanne Cullen-Unsworth for her leadership and vision and we wish her well on her maternity leave. We’d also like to recognize both the ‘productive work’ (carrying BRUVs) and invisible emotional support of our partners in being patient with us driving the Project Seagrass agenda and making Project Seagrass what it is today. Thank you, and happy International Women’s Day to you all! Project Seagrass interns Lauren and Laura flying the UAV (Photo: Benjamin Jones) Project Seagrass Director Leanne Cullen-Unswort mapping seagrass in Wales (Photo: Richard Lilley) Sarah Jane Pope carrying monoBRUV platforms 5km across the island of Lipsi (Photo: Richard Lilley) PS – A reminder of our official launch this Wenesday the 9th March 2016