Project Seagrass

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#ScientistsOfSeagrass: From Farm to Seagrass Restoration

Sat in lockdown it’s hard not to reflect and think about life, and 2020 actually marks ten years since I left the small farm in the Welsh countryside to pursue my career. So, sit back and enjoy the career rollercoaster that has been the last ten years! It all started off at Bangor University where I studied Marine Biology. I’d wanted to do this for as long as I remember, I have always had a fascination with sharks, whales, fish, you know, the normal stuff for a teenager to be obsessed with… Even this had a rocky start however, I didn’t get the A-level grades I had hoped for, so had to make my case to the course director to let me in, which thankfully they did! August before heading to Bangor my welcome pack came with a prompt to sign into your IT account ahead of time to make sure it works… it didn’t. Several hours on the phone to various people, I wasn’t registered to go to university. Disaster. Another plea to the course director, who thankfully remember me, and they squeezed me in, and I got the last accommodation room (in a building which was demolished the next year!). Smooth sailing and I’ve not even left home yet. Though very hard work the next few years went off without a hitch, I even had time to work part time jobs at McDonalds, a pet shop, a bakery, as a cleaner, a café, pond maintenance and even pest control! I passed BSc (Hons) with a 2.1 but couldn’t find any jobs that I liked, so I made the decision to stay at Bangor and do their Marine Environmental Protection MSc. I worked 7 days a week for the summer of 2013 to pay for it at the pet shop, pest control and one of my favourite places I’ve worked Anglesey Sea Zoo. Working at the Sea Zoo was excellent, it was the first time I’d really had an opportunity to get close and familiar with UK species. What I learnt there still comes in useful today as much of my work involves fish ID. In a flash the summer was up, and I went back to only working at the pet shop and went into my MSc. I thought BSc was hard work, the MSc was intense! I worked five days a week at uni, and two to earn money, with only Christmas and Easter off! Nevertheless, I passed and was released out to the world! What’s the natural career for someone who’s just passed an MSc in environmental science? Marine Mammal Trainer, yep, I became a seal trainer, at the Rhyl Seaquarium. Maybe not a totally natural flow but it was a chance to work (£££!) with animals I really loved, in environment that promotes education and conservation of marine species. Another place that will remain close to my heart, not just as my first ‘proper’ job but for the opportunity to work close with fish and seals and learn about them in such a personal manner. All good things come to an end and it was time for me to move on, I became the senior aquarist at Skegness Aquarium in Lincolnshire, another fantastic opportunity to work with tropical species with a tank large enough to dive in! After several months I worked my way to the curator position; now responsible for the operation of the building! I learnt so many skills working in in aquaria, from plumbing to breeding sharks and seahorses. These positions gave me a chance to work so closely with a topic that had been a hobby for me for so many years (did I mention I has 20 fish tanks in my mums shed?) and allowed me to meet so many great people. I decided however that I wanted to work in a more active conservation role, using my scientific background. This led me back to the city I was born, Swansea! I became the Benthic Marine Biology Technician on the SEACAMS2 project. SEACAMS2 was an excellent opportunity as it is a multi-project project allowing me to experience an array of marine science disciplines, the primary projects I worked on were: • Seagrass Restoration Methodology • Methodology of Baited Remote Under Water Video Systems (BRUVS) in low visibility • Acoustic camera use (ARIS) • Benthic species settlement on artificial structures • Mapping of fish spawning grounds and fish population dynamics The key project was the seagrass restoration project! I was part of the team that developed a successful biodegradable seagrass restoration method. This in turn (along with obtaining my Dive Master qualification) gave me the experience to work as the technical lead on the Seagrass Ocean Rescue project (Supported by Project Seagrass, Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF). Though I do miss working at aquariums, nothing is more satisfying than stepping back and looking at the work that myself and the team I’m part of have achieved over the last year. We collected and planted 750,000 seagrass seeds, covering an area of 1.5Ha (about a rugby pitch and a half!). I’d like to thank my family, particularly my parents, for supporting me throughout, and still doing so! Also all my colleagues past and present, I know without such amazing people around me I would not have been able to get where I am today. Sam  

One man went to sow

Guest blog by Mike Furness about his experience as a volunteer during seagrass planting week. It was smelly; it was noisy; it was heavy; it was cold. It was buzzing, vibrant and invigorating. Overwhelmingly it was about camaraderie, enthusiasm and shared purpose, and all set on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. At the end of February, I was privileged to be one of thirty or forty volunteers (the numbers varied daily) playing their individual parts in the climax act of a long-running, seagrass drama. We were going to help to sow a seagrass meadow, not just a small patch but a whole ‘field’. The logistics are daunting to think about; everything from feeding and accommodating the team to previously organising hundreds of school children to fill and tie 20,000 small bags on to 20km of ropes. Not to mention the harvesting and preparation of ¾ of a million seeds. An astounding effort. It would be wrong to say that everything ran flawlessly, but this is fieldwork and coping with the unexpected is part of the art behind the science, and the team coped magnificently. Immense teamwork both on land and at sea to get the seeds planted. I was first introduced to seagrass by taking too close an interest in my daughter’s marine biology studies. Her thesis involved endless hours of studying underwater video of seagrass beds and sometimes I was allowed to help. I don’t think that anyone could watch the multitude of life in a good sward without becoming an advocate for the importance of this vital habitat. So, when Evie, my daughter, first mentioned the meadow-sowing project and that volunteers were needed, I knew I had to be part of it. Arriving at Fort Dale on a crisp, blowy morning, with the wind at our backs, the smell wasn’t immediately apparent. The first impression was of organisation and industry; already half a dozen teams were bound together by their ropes, busily spooning seeds into pouches, topping them up, watering them and passing them on to the packer to carefully coil into a crate ready for soaking and dispatch to the boat team. Crates were rolling off the production line every few minutes, amid lots of banter and a backing track of 80’s pop classics. The productivity was impressive, but a quick glimpse into the temporary crate store quickly put this in perspective; this was a mammoth task. So, time to get stuck in. Mike getting ‘stuck in’. Quick introductions and we were underway. Conversation develops as the task gets familiar. “Where are you from? What has brought you here? Are you studying, employed, retired? What do you do?” Being thrown into a group of thirty or more would be difficult. Working four or five to a rope quickly establishes relationships – friendships – everyone knew the value of the task, everyone wanted to be there, there’s a shared purpose, a common goal, and everyone is freely giving of their time and enthusiasm. And with lots of jobs to do, there is an easy swapping of roles and ropes and before long you know everyone. For someone like me who spends his working life as a one-man band, the teamwork was a breath of fresh air. Ah, yes, the ‘fresh air’… Adding the smelly seeds. The seeds had been harvested in late summer and needed to spend several months rotting out of the harvested grass before being sown. By late February, they were ripe for planting and being kept in their own dedicated fridge. If you’ve ever walked through a geothermal area amidst the steam of fumaroles, you will know the smell that hits you when that fridge door is opened! It’s pungent. It’s sulphurous. It’s clinging. But, you know what, by the end of the day it virtually disappears. And on the morning of day two, when it hits you again, you begin to realise – that’s the smell of success, bring it on. Would I do it again, spend four days with a great bunch of people, in a beautiful location, working together to achieve something so important? Hmm, let me think about it! Mike

New life and new hope

Ah, the long awaited bank holiday weekend is almost here, but this time the circumstances are more than a little unusual. Instead of heading to the beach we will be staying at home, not just to look after ourselves but to support our NHS and it’s amazing staff. Easter is a time to celebrate Spring, it’s the time of year when everything in nature is changing and promising new life and new hope. However you celebrate, I think we can all agree it’s a pretty eggciting time! One of the iconic images we associate with Spring are eggs! Eggs, wonderful aren’t they? From hen eggs to chocolate eggs you’d think you’ve seen it all, well what about cuttlefish eggs? Ooo want to know more? Eggcellent! Why don’t you check out this 2016 blog post from our Director Ben, I think you’ll agree it’s worth getting eggcited about! Eve

The Isolated Conservationist

You are not alone! We are all having to take a pause from our chaotic lives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must support our health care services and the incredible frontline workers by staying at home. Our ocean optimism and motivation to protect our planet does not stop for a lockdown. There are plenty of things that you can do from the safety of your home. Here are just a few ideas! Spring Clean! Perhaps you have some books, clothes or games you don’t want anymore? Staying at home is the perfect opportunity to have a big clear out. Once you’ve decluttered sell it at a car boot sale (when it’s safe to do so!). The money could then be used to catch a train to explore your nearest seagrass meadow or donate it to a conservation project, such as Project Seagrass. With the critical economic situation arising from COVID-19, it’s likely that many companies will have to take large budget cuts reducing what they can donate to small charities. Include your car in the clean-up- a lighter car uses less fuel! An Eco Makeover! Whilst having a spring clean try and identify products that could be switched for more eco-friendly ones- anything that goes down your drain or is chucked away will influence nature! Maybe switching cleaning products or try making your own?! How about making your own cosmetics such as shampoo bars or deodorant? Instead of buying new, maybe there’s an upcycling project you’ve always meant to do or get creative with handmade birthday presents. Why not try making eco-bricks or turning down the temperature of your washing machine? Seagrass Spotter! Take the extra time on your hands as an opportunity to go back through old holiday and beach snaps, there maybe some seagrass ones that could be uploaded to Seagrass Spotter to help build a global map of seagrass meadows. Encourage others to do the same! There are lots more citizen science projects you can get involved with like counting seabirds from your sofa. Plant Trees! For most working from home involves heavy internet use, so switch your search engine to ecosia and you’ll replant a forest in no time! Although Ecosia has had to reduce its tree planting during the pandemic, it plans to make up for lost time once safe to do so. Creative Conservationist! We have plenty of educational resources on the Project Seagrass website and shall be releasing more throughout social distancing. Check out our YouTube channel or our activities book. Maybe whilst you’re creating a rainbow coloured crab, you’ll have an eureka moment on other ways to Save Seagrass! This is also a chance to get artsy- maybe pick up those long forgotten paints for an underwater scene? Or work on those graphic design skills to make a seagrass awareness poster! Maybe you fancy yourself as a nature inspired poet or author? Eat for our seas! Enjoy having the time to try new things in the kitchen! Cutting down on your meat consumption is an easy way to help our earth. With less demand for meat comes less intensive farming, reducing the amount of excess nutrients from animal waste running in to our sea. The nutrients cause algal blooms which smother the seagrass, stopping sunlight reaching it for photosynthesis. Veggie grub also has a much lower carbon footprint. One of our favourite quick and easy comfort foods is roasted sweet potato and cauliflower tacos, you could even do a virtual taco night with friends! This recipe can easily be adapted to whatever’s left in the fridge- some peppers, onions or broccoli, maybe even mix in some leftovers from previous meals. Reducing food waste saves you money, takes pressure off our supply chains and helps protect our oceans- it’s a win all round! We’d love to hear of other ways people are keeping green, pop us a message and stay in touch whilst we’re all keeping distant. Best fishes, Evie!