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Project Seagrass: A Year In Review 2018-2019

Posted on June 28, 2019 at 4:55 AM



Richard Lilley 


Every year, as a charitable organisation, we have to write a report highlighting the previous 12 months activities. In our early days as a charity these seemed fairly straightforward, but as I sit here to write this, I find it very difficult to decided what to include. A good sign for seagrass!

Anyway, this is my take on our work for the 12 months from April 2018 to March 2019.


April 2018 

April 2018 seems like a long time ago now, but our financials year kicked off with Laura attending “A new post-2020 biodiversity agenda – the communications challenge” at the University of Cambridge. Part of this was the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s Panel Discussion on Setting a new post-2020 biodiversity agenda. The 2-hour lecture/interactive question and answer session focused on what scientists and the world needs to do ahead of the 2020 Beijing Biodiversity Conference (which many hope will have the same impact on biodiversity as the Paris agreement has had on climate change).


May 2018

In May Richard and Leanne, in collaboration with Dr Lina Mtwana Nordlund of Stockholm University, published the first quantitative global evidence on the significant roles that seagrasses play in world fisheries. This was an timely study that made explicit the link between global fisheries production and seagrass meadows, with the paper getting some good coverage on the BBC and leading to a subsequent letter that was sent to the European Union and British Government.

May was also when the Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd (National Museum Cardiff) hosted Project Seagrass as we celebrated the ‘Year Of The Sea’ in Wales! Many seahorses, cod, cuttlefish and crabs were coloured in with Evie and Leanne manning the stands for the event.



Evie and Leanne at the National Museum, Cardiff celebrating Wales “Year of the Sea”


June 2018 

The International Seagrass Biology Workshop series is the biennial lead event of the World Seagrass Association. In June 2018, the 13th ISBW was held in at the National University of Singapore, Singapore. “Translating Science into Action” was the overarching theme for ISBW13 (a theme I think we can all get behind), with this year’s theme motivated by the ever-important need for effective communication of seagrass science amongst scientists, managers and practitioners.


Ben (who had literally just move to Stockholm to undertake his PhD at Stockholm University) joined Richard and Leanne at the Indo-Pacific Seagrass Network workshop which focussed on assessing the value of seagrass meadows for supporting livelihoods and food security across the Indo-Pacific.


Benjamin Jones showing how Baited Remote Underwater Video can be used to record species abundance and diversity.


We left the conference feeling that the immediate challenge is to better develop and implement science-based seagrass conservation and restoration policies and protocols that will help put new science into practice.


Immediately following ISBW13 was IMCC5.


The 5th International Marine Conservation Congress in Kuching, Sarawak 24-29 June, 2018 was a brilliant conference. With over 700 marine conservation professionals and students in attendance. In my opinion, IMCC is the most important international event for anyone involved in marine conservation. This year’s event was the beautiful city of Kuching in Sarawak, and the conference brought together marine conservationists from many walks of life including but not limited to marine conservation scientists, practitioners, teachers, policy makers, and journalists.




As I have to pick a highlight for Project Seagrass, it would have to be our workshop at the first International Marine Kids Congress, organized and led by qualified science instructors, IMKC ran along IMCC5 and engaged 30 school-aged children (ages 7 through 14) in science education, marine biology, environmental conservation, and experiential learning! For our part we enjoyed creating a seagrass meadow (see picture) and sharing with these young minds, all of the fantastic animals that live or rely on seagrass meadows!


 

A fantastic group of kids learning about the wonders of seagrass at IMCC5.

 

The next IMCC event (IMCC6) is in Kiel, Germany in August 2020. So, join us all in the heart of Europe as we come together to help "Make Marine Science Matter!"

 

July 2018 

After an exceptionally busy June, the month of July was a comparatively quiet for the Project Seagrass team! That said, we recorded another great podcast with Andrew Lewin for the fantastic Speak Up For Blue.




In Scotland myself and Lauren Clayton attend the ‘Round The Pier Day’ Harbour Celebrations in Ullapool for some further seagrass awareness raising activities and in England and Wales a big focus for the month was our response to the consultation on the third tranche of MCZ designations. Finally, the 29th of July was our 5th Birthday, a significant milestone for us.

 

August 2018 

Our work in August celebrates the contributions to Project Seagrass of Oliver Dalby. Oliver’s project investigated the motivations, benefits, barriers and changes in knowledge associated with taking part in seagrass citizen science projects, specifically SeagrassSpotter and Seagrass-Watch, which he followed up with a popular blog post ‘Seagrass citizen science: investigations into a potential seagrass saviour




September 2018

Equally, in September a highlight was hearing about the work of intern Isadora Sinha. Isadora’s project concentrated 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. Her work helped us to think about how best to make SeagrassSpotter accessible and known to the wider public and has led to changes in the app which are currently being implemented. Isadora wrote a blog on her Project Seagrass experience.


October 2018

Beyond our annual Autumn Survey in Porthdinllaen (this time we were out at 03:30am in the snow wind and hail!) October was a relatively quiet month. We survey the seagrass meadow at Portdinllaen four times a year (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) using standard Seagrass-Watch methods.


November 2018

In November Richard and Leanne wrote with colleagues a challenging piece of The Conversation suggesting that Tropical marine conservation needs to change as coral reefs decline. The article highlights that with a heavy heart we are now at a marine conservation crossroads with all paths looking precarious at best.


December 2018

We kicked off December with our annual advent seagrass campaign and December 2018 was the year of our ‘#DearSanta’ campaign. This year we asked #TeamSeagrass what they would like to ask for from Santa this year, using the hashtag #DearSanta to collate a list for him!

In December the Marine Conservation Society (UK) also published in their quarterly magazine an article by RJ entitled “Seagrass Meadows, Our Secret Gardens”, enabling us to promote SeagrassSpotter to new audiences! Thank you!




January 2019

In January we had fantastic news that we (Project Seagrass, Cardiff University and Swansea University) had sign off on a partnership with Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF on the UKs first full-scale seagrass restoration project - Seagrass Ocean Rescue.


This proposed project will have the following aims:


1) Commence a programme of activities to create the UK first major seagrass restoration project.


2) Undertake a programme of stakeholder mapping and stakeholder engagement in order to establish a means to ensure local scale success of the seagrass restoration project.


3) Conduct extensive pre-restoration discussions with key regulatory stakeholders Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Government, Milford Haven Port Authority and the Crown Estate.


4) Obtain approval for project from Natural Resources Wales, Milford Haven Port Authority and the Crown Estate.


5) Create the first full scale seagrass restoration project in the UK at Dale in Milford Haven.


6) Undertake extensive communication and outreach activities to enhance the understanding and uptake of the project.


7) Propose locations for further Sky Ocean Rescue seagrass restoration sites.


We envisage a busy year ahead! Please follow our progress on social media via the hashtag #SeagrassOceanRescue


February 2019

Are you feeling the February climate blues? Richard wrote an article on some simple things YOU can do to make a change whilst RJ attended Scotland’s International Marine Conference 2019 (which was held in Glasgow on the 20th and 21st February). The conference focused on Scotland’s current national and international actions to protect the marine environment:


“I do want to highlight three specific issues – marine protected areas, blue carbon, and marine litter. All of them are of great relevance to this event, and all of them are areas where Scotland is trying to show international leadership.”

- Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister -


Scotland's vision is for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas that are managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people. However, this is only achievable through strong national action and international cooperation. As we look forward to Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020 we can expect a real push in these 3 areas which is great news for seagrass!


March 2019

Around the world March is always a busy month for #TeamSeagrass. March 1st is now celebrated as ‘World Seagrass Day’ and a campaign, that originated in Florida, runs for the whole month - ‘Seagrass Awareness Month’. The first “Seagrass Awareness Month” was declared in 1999 by the ‘Seagrass Outreach Partnership’, an informal group of citizens, educators, law enforcement officers and marine resource managers. Two years later, in March 2001, the then Governor issued the first seagrass awareness proclamation on behalf of the state of Florida.


We celebrated Seagrass Awareness Month is style, with our Welsh Seagrass Restoration project being showcased at the World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi. 




Alongside our normal activities this year we partnered with The Maldives Resilient Reefs Project, the Blue Marine Foundation, and the Maldives Underwater Initiative to #ProtectMaldivesSeagrass. The campaign is aiming to raise awareness about the importance and value of seagrass in the Maldives. We are asking resorts across the country to pledge to protect a minimum of 80% of the seagrass around their island for the benefit of the environment, tourism, fisheries and the people who depend on them for jobs and income.




RJ wrote an article for the Scotland: The Big Picture highlighting the need for #Rewilding in our seas;


“Over the next 12 months Project Seagrass are calling on individuals in Scotland to engage with our citizen science program at SeagrassSpotter.org as we seek to expand the number of contributors. From fishers and scuba divers to people on holiday at the beach, we want to create a more comprehensive picture of seagrass meadows around Scotland. Once we have ‘the big picture’, then we can choose the most appropriate sites for our seagrass gardening efforts to begin.”


Finally, to round off the year, Rich and RJ wrote an article in Nature Research Ecology and Evolution entitled Sowing the seeds of ocean recovery requires a phase shift in marine restoration. They argue that the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 is a fantastic opportunity for a phase shift in marine restoration, but this now needs governments and all involved with the exploitation and management of our oceans to stand up and take responsibility for making this happen. 




Let’s hope that for our 2019-2020 blog we can look back at the start of a successful Seagrass Ocean Rescue journey! 

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.




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