HM Insights

Seagrass: tackling climate change through coastal rewilding

In what was hailed as an historic landmark for Scotland, a community-led project of “coastal rewilding” took place at Loch Craignish in August 2021.

The project, which received funding from NatureScot and involves collaboration from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), and environmental charities Seawilding and Project Seagrass, aims to trial innovative methods to restore and revitalise key marine ecosystems, with a view to then rolling out such restoration methods elsewhere if successful.  At its core, the project centres on the restoration of seagrass, a vital marine ecosystem for the UK coastline and one that has been referred to as a “wonder-plant”.   

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Why seagrass is considered so important

In a study published earlier this year, scientists estimated that upwards of 90% of the seagrass meadows surrounding UK shores had disappeared in roughly the last century or two. This huge decline in seagrass meadows, described by scientists as being “catastrophic”, is likely attributable to increases in pollution, marine exploration and disease. The process of restoring seagrass is often very labour intensive and involves (among other steps) the underwater collection of seeds that need to be washed using specialist equipment and then stored in a particular manner until planting.  

Despite covering as little as 0.2% of the seafloor, seagrass (or “Zostera Marina”) is considered absolutely crucial, providing a shelter to a multitude of marine life. Research has shown that seagrass has the capacity to capture carbon from the atmosphere up to 35 times faster than a typical rainforest, and that it also absorbs around 10% of the ocean’s carbon each year. These are the exact kind of qualities that environmental groups are looking to harness through sea wilding efforts and initiatives, which represents both a viable means for offsetting carbon emissions and a means to increase and improve marine habitats and resources along UK shores.

Recovery of seagrass for ocean wealth UK (“ReSOW UK”)

Seagrass recovery was pinpointed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI, the government funded body) as one of six key projects aimed at building a sustainable future for the marine environment and those who rely and depend on the marine environment by virtue of their livelihoods. Under the title “Recovery of seagrass for ocean wealth UK” (or ReSOW UK), UKRI noted that “Nature based solutions” to climate change form a considerable part of the UK’s overall goal of reaching Net Zero emissions by 2050.

In July of this year, UKRI announced funding of just over £750,000 in pursuit of seagrass recovery in the UK, noting that the role of ReSOW UK was to promote the long-term recovery and enhancement of the natural environment, improve sustainable commercial activity and promote social welfare, and to assist in the mitigation of climate change.

Conclusion

The benefits of restoring the UK’s decimated seagrass meadows have been well documented. The complexities involved in seagrass restoration have also been well publicised, so it remains to be seen just how Scotland (and the wider UK) will look to push forward with seagrass recovery, and what impact seagrass restoration will ultimately have in the UK’s push for Net Zero emissions by 2050.       

 

Useful links

NATURAL CAPITAL

CLIMATE CHANGE

RURAL ECONOMY

MARINE ECONOMY