Project Seagrass

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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 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!