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Spotlight on Scotland: The Sound of Jura

Posted on April 25, 2019 at 1:15 PM


By Richard 'RJ' Lilley



The weather in Scotland has been beautiful recently making the start of my Spring fieldwork very enjoyable - although surface water temperatures of 7 or 8℃ was a swift reminder that winter has only just left us!



Last week I was very lucky to be shown around the Taynish peninsula (Loch Sween, Linne Mhuirich and the Sound of Jura) by members of the community group ‘Friends of the Sound of Jura.’ The Sound of Jura is home to some of the most fascinating and diverse marine life in Scotland and this community group seeks to protect the Sound from threats to the area’s wildlife, whilst championing the development of a local sustainable economy.



The Friends of the Sound of Jura are an active member of the Coastal Communities Network, Scotland of which Project Seagrass is an Associated Organisation, and so this is not the first time I have had the pleasure of their company.


 

The Sound of Jura and Loch Sween contain some of the most fascinating and diverse marine life in Scotland. The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area was established to protect the extraordinary flapper skate (Dipturus intermedia) that lives there. The Friends of the Sound of Jura are keen to point out that:



“The International Union for the Conservation of Nature designates flapper skate as 'critically endangered', an unenviable category they share with the Sumatran rhino and mountain gorilla, meaning that the skate are among the rarest animals in the world, threatened with a high risk of extinction because of their rate of decline.”


 

The first seagrass site we visited was Carsaig Bay (main blog photo) where there are two meadows of eelgrass (Zostera marina). The first in relatively continuous and extends broadly the width of the buoys within the bay. The second is a smaller patch which can be found towards the north of the bay. In the summer months these meadows are reportedly full of life, and I would suggest definitely worth a snorkel if it’s safe to do so – the beach is very accessible.



Sandeels in Carsaig Bay seagrass meadow July 2017. Photo taken by Sound of Jura Seaweeds.


 

The second site we visited was Linne Mhuirich. Here there are meadows of both Eelgrass (Zostera marina), and Dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltii). The Dwarf eelgrass is especially prevalent in the small basin at the south of Linne Mhuirich and is known to play an important part in the winter diet of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), the mute swan (Cygnus olor), the brent goose (Branta bernicla) and the wigeon (Anas penelope).

 

 



 An eelgrass meadows in Linne Mhuirich in March 2016. Photo taken by Sound of Jura Seaweeds.



The final seagrass site is where the water enters/exits in the south of Linne Mhurich (where it joins Loch Sween). Here there are also eelgrass meadows around the Ulva Islands and Taynish Island.




The seagrass meadow at Taynish Island in Loch Sween June 2017. Photo taken by Sound of Jura Seaweeds.




Mapping our seagrass meadows is a priority for Project Seagrass in Scotland as we move towards a national celebration of our seas next year (2020 has been designated Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters). 2020 is a year that will spotlight, celebrate and promote opportunities to experience and enjoy our beautiful coasts and waters and at Project Seagrass we want to make sure that seagrass meadows are front and centre of that conversation - so that we can identifiy and engage with meaningful restoration work in areas where it is needed.



The work of community organisations such as the Friends of the Sound of Jura are central to this effort, indeed as an organisation we couldn’t do half of what we do without the tireless efforts of individuals and communities on the ground (and in the water) who want to make a positive difference for their marine environment.



So thanks again to my hosts last week for sharing their extensive Local Ecological Knowledge with me, I’ll be back to see you soon!



RJ



PS - YOU can help contribute to seagrass conservation by spotting seagrass in your area. Download the app at SeagrassSpotter.org 




Dear Santa

Posted on December 1, 2018 at 3:30 AM



By Richard Lilley


Dear Santa,


We have tried to be responsible people all year. We are really hoping that this year we get the thing we have always wanted – healthy and productive oceans.


We know that people haven’t looked after the oceans from the first time they were given to us, and we also know that the climate is changing and this is making us all very concerned! 


However, at Project Seagrass we have a plan to do our bit to help them get better. To help us achieve our aim we would like the following for Christmas this year:


• We’d like seagrass meadows full of fish

• We’d like everyone to know what seagrass meadows are

• We’d like for everyone to know how diverse seagrass meadows are

• We’d like for everyone to know where in the world all the seagrass was

• We’d like for everyone to learn more about seagrass in school

 

Finally, if you don’t think we are being cheeky, we’d like you to ask our friends in #TeamSeagrass what they would like to ask for from Santa this year, I’m sure they also have some great ideas!

 

We’ll ask them to use the hashtag #DearSanta to collate a list for you.


Thanks Santa

 

Merry Fishmas!

 

The Project Seagrass team.


Isadora Sinha on her Project Seagrass Experience

Posted on September 6, 2018 at 2:05 AM



By Isadora Sinha


To give you a bit of an introduction, I am a Cardiff University Genetics (BSc) student going into my final year of my degree and have joined Project Seagrass for a Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP) summer research placement, at their offices in the Sustainable Places Research Institute.


I stumbled upon Project Seagrass rather unexpectedly and had no idea what it was all about. Upon reading further into what seagrass is and the work Project Seagrass does, I was very keen on joining the team to learn more and take part. The Project Seagrass team are the nicest people I have worked with and maintain a lovely work environment where research and collaboration can flourish.


When I first heard of the organisation, I did not know what seagrass was nor how important it is. Seagrasses are flowering plants that live in marine environments off the coast in shallow water. I know many people, including myself before this project, do not know the difference between seaweed and seagrass. Seagrass has roots, stems, leaves and flowers just like terrestrial plants do and holds some very important roles. I have learnt that seagrass is vital for: food security for coastal communities; fisheries; increasing water quality, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and as a food source for plant eaters like sea turtles! That is a long list of important roles which I had no clue about. This made me realise how seagrass is absent from public awareness. Rainforests get lots of publicity, yet seagrass, that can sequester carbon ~35 times more efficiently, somehow lacks it. Hopefully, in time that will change as more people realise that public awareness needs to be raised.


Unfortunately due to several factors, seagrass is declining (if you want to learn about why, go to the Why Seagrass). This is catastrophic given the amount seagrass does for the marine environment as well as for us. Project Seagrass aims to push conversation efforts, educate the public and collect data on seagrass to the goal of restoring seagrass meadows to their former health and abundance.


I am from a rather specialised degree, however, I found I quickly adapted to research here and am greatly enjoying it. Project Seagrass runs multidisciplinary projects which is why the collaborations are so exciting and surprising!


My work itself is has been a mixed bag of literature reviews, data analysis, application development and learning lots about seagrass and citizen science. Seagrass is not sufficiently mapped due to the dynamic and vast nature of seagrass; it shrinks and grows with changing seasons and conditions. Plus, it is spread globally and is under water so it is often hard for scientists to fully monitor. This is where the use of citizen science could be a game changer. Citizen science is the participation of citizens in the collection of (usually ecological) data in collaboration with scientists. Citizen science is fantastic as it has the potential to increase data points by thousands compared to scientists collecting data alone, and it means more area is covered too. This Earth is shared by all of us so if people are passionate about conservation and want to help, citizen science is ideal. It gives individuals the chance to make a meaningful contribution to scientific knowledge as well as protect what they care about.


In line with using citizen science to save seagrass, Project Seagrass has created a mobile application called SeagrassSpotter which is available on iOS and Android. SeagrassSpotter data is used to map seagrass. This is done as users report sightings of seagrass, whether it be while going kayaking or walking their dog on the beach. The report is logged in the form of a geographically tagged photo of the seagrass and is put publically on the SeagrassSpotter database so everyone can view it. Mapping seagrass is important so Project Seagrass has data that enables them to reinforce conservation action, petition for needed conservation policies, as well as make targeted actions in specific areas where more research is needed. This data would also help identify areas where seagrass has been declining and where it is still flourishing.


My project concentrates on analysis of the demographics of current SeagrassSpotter users, which has never been investigated before. The demographics of users are of particular importance as we want to ensure that SeagrassSpotter is used by citizens of all ages and professions, not solely by researchers. If it turns out, participants are mainly researchers, then we need to think about how best to make SeagrassSpotter accessible and known to the wider public. If the results show that there are mainly young users, we need to find ways to make SeagrassSpotter more user friendly for the older generations. After analysing the results, I will generate applicable suggestions and improvements on how to increase citizen participation as well as ideas for technical application improvements. The demographic data is being obtained by means of a survey which was made in collaboration with, master’s student, Oliver Dalby. The survey has citizen participation motivation questions as the main portion which is what Oliver’s project focusses on. The demographic questions at the end of the survey is how the data I am analysing for my project is collected.


I hope that my work will contribute to making SeagrassSpotter more widely used as well as add to the understanding the user-base of the application and what effect that has on data collection. This in turn would ideally lead to more users of the application, resulting in more data and more mapping of seagrass. The objective is to use this information to push for change to protect seagrass, subsequently saving wildlife and protecting communities.


My time working on this project has opened my eyes to the importance of seagrass and its conservation. I have also learned new transferable skills as well as gained specific knowledge of citizen science. I can see the need for geneticists in seagrass research so who knows what could come of the future. I am happy to be here now and to be contributing to furthering Project Seagrass’ cause. I am thankful to Leanne for accepting me on and guiding me on this project and to Oliver for collaborating with me. I am having an absolutely splendid time learning and taking part. I implore anyone interested in this project to get in touch and participate, it really is worthwhile. If participation is not an option for you, please help raise awareness and share what you know with those around you. The more people know about this, the more can be done and the greater the impact.


I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog post, thank you for taking the time to read it.

Seagrass citizen science: investigations into a potential seagrass saviour

Posted on August 16, 2018 at 8:00 PM



A guest blogger? But why should I bother reading what he has to say? Well here’s a bit about me….


Originally hailing from Melton Mowbray, a small town in the middle of England known solely for producing pork pies and stilton cheese, my initial foray into marine science began with any other child’s obsession with the beach. My parents often remind me that after hours of poking around in rockpools and catching crabs I would throw tantrums when it was time to leave the coast and return to my landlocked home. As I became older and words like career and jobs became ever more prevalent in my life, I began searching for the holy grail of adult life, a job which I genuinely enjoyed.


This search led me to undertake a Bachelor’s degree in Coastal Marine Biology in the now non-existent Scarborough Campus of the University of Hull; I should clarify that my class was the last year to graduate from that tiny seaside town before the satellite campus shut down. It was during my time as an undergraduate researching in the Aegean Sea that I first encountered seagrass ecosystems and immediately fell in love. Seagrasses are the only true marine angiosperm (flowing plants) and have been described by Professor Carlos Duarte (a famous seagrass scientist) as ugly duckling ecosystems. After returning from that career changing trip all my subsequent assessments were targeted towards seagrasses as I endeavoured to learn all I could about their function, ecology and reproduction.



A room with a view… daily scenery when completing Aegean seagrass surveys.


This obsession permeated through to my Master’s degree at the University of York in Marine Environmental Management where my supervisor shared a passion for these underappreciated ecosystems; it seemed fate had brought two seagrass nerds together at last. As I continued through the MSc with a specific focus on seagrasses when possible there came a time where I had to find an external placement partner to complete my second thesis with. Being still constrained firmly to the student financial situation I did not have the prospect of travelling to far flung places as some of my peers. However, this hardly mattered as my first choice was to work with the only active group of seagrass researchers in the UK, Project Seagrass! After finalising the logistics of the project and “upping sticks” to Cardiff in mid-July I now right this blog post sat at a desk in Project Seagrass HQ nestled in a surprisingly sunny Cardiff.


But that’s enough about me, let’s talk seagrass citizen science!


The project I am completing investigates the motivations, benefits, barriers and changes in knowledge associated with taking part in seagrass citizen science projects, specifically SeagrassSpotter and Seagrass-Watch (follow the links if you want to learn more about these projects). More broadly the project sets out to discover who is taking part, why they take part and when they take part. The project itself is being co-managed by myself and Isadora Sinha of Cardiff University who is heading up the demographics (the who) associated with the project.


Throughout the project we utilised an online questionnaire which has been disseminated to current users of SeagrassSpotter, Seagrass Watch, and various seagrass-based email and social media groups (yes seagrass Facebook groups exist, if you’re interested you should join one). Given that citizen science, the participation of non-scientists in scientific research, has been labelled as a source of large data sets across varied space and time, seagrass citizen science has the potential to alleviate some of the primary threats these ecosystems face.



Talking all things seagrass citizen science at a workshop organised by Cardiff University.


Seagrasses are thought to be declining at around 7% a year, with declines primarily due to changes in water quality and increases in suspended sediments which reduce the ability of the plant to photosynthesise by blocking available sunlight. Additionally, researchers have little idea of local spatial coverages of seagrasses due in no short part to a chronic lack of public awareness of their existence; a concept which doesn’t apply to more charismatic ecosystems such as coral reefs.


This decline represents not only the loss of a beautiful marine habitat (see the photo below if you don’t believe me) but also the services these ecosystems provide. Seagrasses are present on the coastal fringes of almost all continents worldwide where their presence promotes high primary and fisheries productivity, in turn supporting food security worldwide. You know the cod that forms an integral part of your chippy tea? Well it probably spent a good part of its juvenile years living in and around seagrass meadows. Seagrasses also add 3D structure to muddy bottoms, enhancing sediment capture which stabilises coastlines against erosion and acts to trap carbon dioxide helping to combat climate change.


It is therefore hoped that by better understanding why people take part in seagrass citizen science we can reduce barriers to participation and increase public awareness and conservation of these crucial ecosystems. The project also represents the first time these topics have been studied in a seagrass specific context so will provide much needed insight into the finer state of seagrass citizen science. For a global review of seagrass citizen science see this article led by Project Seagrass Director Benjamin Jones (sorry, it's not open access).


At the time of writing the survey has been sent to over 1000 people and has been completed around 60 times. This may not seem like a worthwhile return, but such a small number of responses is common among online surveys.


Results from the survey are being collated currently and will be prepared ready for my MSc thesis submission in early September. So, watch this space for seagrass updates!


Together we can promote conservation and raise awareness of seagrasses to help this ugly duckling become beautiful swan.



Global fisheries threatened by loss of seagrass

Posted on May 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM



By Leanne Cullen-Unsworth


Seafood consumption is both a love and a necessity for hundreds of millions of people all across the world. And the supply of seafood is a key part of maintaining food security for the whole planet. But as demand for seafood is increasing, stocks of wild fish and invertebrates (such as mussels and prawns) are declining.


A major problem is that policies and plans designed to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries almost exclusively target fishing activity. But we also need to protect the critical habitats that these fisheries also depend on.


Most species that are fished require more than one habitat to complete their lifecycles. For example Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) spends its adult life shoaling in deep water, but juveniles require more stable habitat where they can hide such as seagrass meadows. So, if we want to manage stocks for sustainability, it is essential to protect the supporting habitats of targeted species.


Seagrass meadows are a critical habitat supporting biodiversity and in turn the productivity of the world’s fisheries. Seagrass meadows are not only suitable for juvenile fish but also for larger fish of different species. As seagrass meadows occur in shallow, clear waters, they are an easily exploitable fishing habitat.


Today, we published the first quantitative global evidence on the significant roles that seagrasses play in world fisheries .


Seagrass as nursery grounds: provide a safer, less exposed, environment for eggs to be laid and young animals to find food and protection from predators as they grow. This includes commercial species such as tiger prawns, conch, Atlantic cod and white spotted spinefoot. In fact, one-fifth of the world’s most landed fish -- including Atlantic Cod and Walleye Pollock benefit from the persistence of extensive seagrass meadows.


Seagrass as a fishing area: it is not just large scale fishing industries that benefit from the presence of seagrass meadows. They are an easily accessible fishing ground used by small scale artisanal and subsistence fisheries around the world.


Seagrass gleaning: seagrass is also essential habitat for gleaning activity, fishing for invertebrates such as sea cucumbers in water that is shallow enough to walk in. This is often done by women and children, and provides a source of essential protein and income for some of the most vulnerable people in tropical coastal communities. It is a common and increasingly visible activity, but it is not usually included in fishery statistics and rarely considered in resource management strategies.


Seagrass supports other fisheries: seagrass also provides trophic support to other fisheries. They do this by creating expansive areas rich in fauna, from which there are vast quantities of living material, organic matter and associated animal biomass that supports other fisheries. Seagrasses also promote the health of connected habitats (like coral reefs), and have the capacity to support whole food webs in deep sea fisheries.


Threats to seagrass, fisheries and food security: the coastal distribution of seagrass means that it is vulnerable to a multitude of land and sea derived threats. These include land runoff, coastal development, boating activity and trawling. On a global scale, seagrass is rapidly declining and when seagrass is lost associated fisheries and their stocks are likely to become compromised with profound and negative economic consequences.




Supporting policy and action is needed now!


The importance of seagrass meadows for fisheries productivity and hence food security is not reflected by the policies currently in place. Urgent action is needed if we want to continue enjoying the benefits that healthy and productive seagrass meadows provide. Fisheries management must be broadened from just targeting fishing activity to also targeting the habitats on which fisheries depend. Awareness of the role of seagrass in global fisheries production, and associated food security, must be central to policy, and major manageable threats to seagrass, such as declining water quality, must be dealt with.


Action is urgently needed to protect the worlds seagrass meadows if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits they provide.


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