Solent Seagrass Restoration Project

Solent Seagrass Restoration Project

To work towards our vision of a wilder future and 30% of land and sea restored for nature Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has joined forces with Boskalis Westminster to undertake a seagrass restoration project within the Solent, beginning with an important research and development phase.   

We want to see seagrass habitats in the Solent restored towards their historical levels and for seagrass to be present in all locations that could support it.  By restoring seagrass habitats, we will create a wilder Solent, supporting increased biodiversity and sustainable fisheries, promoting greater ecosystem services, cleaner water and creating a natural carbon solution to mitigate the effects of climate change.  

The project will be led by the Trust’s Senior Marine Biologist, Dr Tim Ferrero and aims to identify the best methodology for restoring this hugely important marine species within the Solent, whilst also monitoring the habitat as a provider of carbon sequestration. 

Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has considerable experience of seagrass surveying and monitoring methods and of seagrass ecology but does not yet have direct experience of seagrass restoration. Through this project and making use of our existing knowledge and expertise, we plan to develop the skills and experience we need to establish the Trust as the local lead for seagrass restoration and more widely throughout the Wildlife Trust movement. This project will enable us to develop both the knowledge and practical skills to undertake seagrass restoration at scale within the Solent region, further support the wider Wildlife Trust movement and help Boskalis lead their industry in developing nature-based solutions to protect and enhance coastal ecosystems globally. 

Project updates

July 2021

We are delighted that our project has been chosen to receive funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The grant supports the first year of the project, which includes enabling us to purchase an underwater drone to capture footage of the seagrass.

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What is seagrass? 

Seagrasses get their name from their green, grass-like leaves, which form extensive lush meadows (or beds) underwater, just like the grass we see in our fields. One of the reasons seagrasses are so special, is that they are the only fully marine flowering plants in the world. Seagrasses live, and reproduce in seawater, but are restricted to shallow coastal areas where there is enough sunlight for them to grow and thrive. Amazingly, seagrasses are estimated to have first evolved when dinosaurs still walked the earth, over 100 million years ago. Today, there are over 60 species of seagrass worldwide, five of which can be found here in the UK. 

Why is seagrass so important? 

Seagrasses are sometimes known as ecosystem engineers because they can profoundly change the environment in which they are found, creating unique habitats which become biodiversity hotspots for a wide range of wonderful marine wildlife. The long leaves of seagrass are home to all kinds of anemones, hydroids, sea-squirts, sea mats and different algal epiphytes. Seagrasses also stabilise and oxygenate the sediment they grow in, and slow down water currents, making an ideal habitat for juvenile and adult crabs, sea snails, cuttlefish, pipefish, and even seahorses. 

Is seagrass different to seaweed? 

Seagrasses are easily confused with seaweeds; whilst they are both plant-like and live on our shores, there are some key differences. Seaweeds cling onto the seafloor, often rocks or reef, with a ‘holdfast’ and transport nutrients directly from the water through their body. Whereas, because they are flowering vascular plants, seagrasses have an internal transport system for nutrients they take in through a root system based in seafloor sediment. 

What is Blue Carbon? 

Blue Carbon is the term used for carbon captured and stored by the world’s coastal and marine ecosystems.  Blue carbon has a huge role to play in tackling the climate crisis, as oceans absorb 20-35% of human-made carbon emissions every year. 

A natural solution to climate change

Seagrass plants and meadows have the potential to sequester and store huge amounts of carbon dissolved in our seas – this is known as ‘blue carbon’.  Like all plants, seagrasses photosynthesise, taking carbon dioxide from the water to build their leaves and roots.  As seagrass plants die and are replaced by new shoots and leaves, the dead material collects on the seafloor along with organic matter (carbon) from other dead organisms. This material builds up forming layers of seagrass sediment, which if left undisturbed, can store carbon in the seafloor for thousands of years. 

Considering that seagrasses can capture carbon at rates up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, and account for 10% of the ocean’s total burial of carbon (despite covering less than 0.2% of the ocean floor), they are one of our most important natural solutions to the climate change crisis. 

How can you get involved?

Whilst we begin work on the research and development phase of our restoration project, we also want to increase awareness of seagrass and its vital role in tackling the climate and ecological emergencies. 

You can help support the project and the wider work of the Trust in a number of ways: 

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