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Flotsam and jetsam: The story of the fuzz ball

Are they aliens, are they dinosaur eggs, or are they just some ‘organic’ bath sponges that fell of the ship from China?These are the questions people might rightfully be asking when they come across numerous fuzzy round balls washed upon the beach. Well in the village of Inverallochy, North of Aberdeen, these questions have been the subject of such discussion (minus the dinosaurs and aliens). On the sandy beach at Inverallochy, numerous fuzzy balls have been washing up, with school students, teachers, local and pub goers all discussing what these things actually are. Some suspected that climate change was bring these fuzzy structures from warmer climbs. But villagers reached a conclusion – lets ask a marine biologist. Fuzzy fibre balls are very common in the Mediterranean (Photo: Martino Sabia) With help from Project Seagrass and some intrigued scientists at Swansea University we found the answer. Fuzzy Balls like the one that Morag Buchan and her school students found on their beach are very common in the Mediterranean where very small tidal surges slowly weave strands of fibres from the seagrass Posidonia oceanica into tight balls. But we don’t have such a species of seagrass in the UK and our seagrass (Zostera marina) is much less fibrous. The answer comes from a plant more commonly seen in our estuaries, lagoons and sea lochs. A species of aquatic plant called Ruppia martima is likeley the cause of these fibre balls (Photo: Marilee Lovit) In the UK and Northern Europe we have an aquatic plant called Ruppia maritima that lives in semi marine environments such as estuaries and sea lochs (some people call it a seagrass), and has been known in other places in the Atlantic to form these balls. So Scotland and Northern Europe (inc the Baltic) are the ideal places to help form such a structure and Ruppia is known to be abundant. So sadly, no aliens, no dinosaurs and no bath sponges, just good old plant material. For more info on the fuzzy balls please take a look here.

A New Dawn For Scottish Seagrass

Seagrasses grow all around the coast of the UK and around our islands within the intertidal zone. Scotland plays host to the highest abundance of seagrass when compared to the rest of UK, this is due to the better water quality and also a higher number of available sheltered sites around the coast of Scotland. Two species of Zostera can be found around our coastline: Zostera marina and Zostera noltii. Before the 1930’s both species thrived and were abundant, however a wasting disease outbreak in the 1930’s decimated the populations of much of Scottish Zostera and the population is still recovering today. The maps below shows the recorded abundance and distribution of Zostera around Scotland, the green boxes indicate records of seagrass (distribution maps obtained from NBN). The first map shows the extent of protected areas (both terrestrial and marine) around Scotland, the second the recorded abundance and distribution of Zostera species. The green boxes indicate records of seagrass (distribution maps obtained from NBN). The seagrass meadows of Scotland play a very important role in the biological diversity of Scottish coasts. Zostera meadows are very important for providing a habitat to juvenile and adult fish some of which are key fisheries species, as well as providing essential grazing for Brent and Canada geese and Mute and Whooper Swans. Seagrass is especially important for over-wintering grazers who need easy access to forage. For these reasons it is essential that certain (if not all areas) of seagrass be protected and so we are encouraging the government to extend current protection and provide additional protection to seagrass areas around the UK. The most common locations for abundant seagrass around Scotland are: on the East Coast; the Firth of Forth, Tay estuary and the Moray Firth, on the West coast; in a number of lochs in the Highland region, the Sound of Mull, around the Isle of Arran, Argyll and Bute and Dumfries and Galloway. Some unrecorded seagrass has been found within Gruinard Bay, Gairloch in the North West Highlands only a couple weeks ago. It has been estimated that Scotland plays host to around 20% of Zostera in North-western Europe and for all we know there is so much more still to be discovered around the Scottish coastline! Due to the topographical nature of the Scottish West coast we are convinced there should be a lot more seagrass than is currently recorded, and this is where YOU, the public can play your part. You can help by Project Seagrass by recording any sightings of seagrass to Seagrass Spotter our online database and app (app available from Google Store) so we can build up a map of the distribution of seagrass. We’re hoping that we can get the Scottish public involved in Seagrass Spotter and in performing Seagrass-Watch surveys to discover as many areas of seagrass around our coast as possible. Try our new recording app and website Seagrass Spotter Much of the seagrass around Scotland is protected by our territorial water MPA’s. There are 16 existing protection sites that are thought to be providing adequate protection to seagrass areas, a further 32 sites could have the potential to extend this protection if they were supplemented by MPA’s. These protected areas only cover a small area of seagrass, if further MPA’s were named or extended then the protection of Scottish seagrass would be much improved, with the majority of UK seagrass being found in Scotland it is vital that our seagrass is protected. Most recently the Wester Ross Biosphere area was created which protects a large area within the North-West Highlands. Research of Seagrass has been quite limited in Scotland, with the most extensive research being carried out on mapping techniques, the Tay estuary has had quite a lot of distribution and abundance monitoring as well as the North west coast. Due to this I think it is essential that Scottish seagrass be monitored more regularly and across a wider area. My aim with Project Seagrass is to raise the awareness and understanding about Seagrass around Scotland and get the public involved in SeagrassWatch. Over the summer we will be performing some public and educational outreach in and around Glasgow by showing a presence at the Glasgow Science Festival Science on Sunday 19th June 2016, if you’re around then please come along! (Click here for more information about Glasgow Science Festival). The ideal future will involve setting up some field trips to areas around Glasgow and further afield where we believe seagrass to be present and showing people how to carry out Seagrass Watch and educating the Scottish public about the importance and threats to seagrass. Hopefully with time this will increase to lots of cities, towns and villages across Scotland in order to show the public how to carry out Seagrass Watch and increase the public knowledge and awareness about UK seagrass, as well as getting some more widespread educational outreach started. We’lll keep you up to date with our progress and news of any Scottish events and findings.