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England Re-Wilding its Sea

The country's largest seagrass restoration project has started. This is really important as seagrass can capture carbon an incredible 35 times faster than rainforests.

Launched last week and lasting four years, the scheme aims to plant eight hectares of biodiverse-rich seagrass meadows off the south coast: four in Plymouth Sound and four in the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation.

Boats laden with sandbags containing seagrass seeds will routinely set off from the south coast and, onboard, will be planters from the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT), who will drop the bags on the seabed. Over time the seeds inside will poke through the canvas and start recolonising the ocean floor.

“This truly is a community effort,” said Mark Parry, development officer at Ocean Conservation Trust. “It's incredible to see the support from local communities supporting habitats for our animal coastal communities, a very proud moment.”

Plymouth city council said the seagrass restoration project would support its ambition to create a national marine park.

The further good news is that this isn't the UK's first project of this type. Last year, Seagrass Ocean Rescue, backed by the WWF, started an “experimental” 20,000 square metre area on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast in South Wales. Seagrass seeds were also planted on the seafloor using hessian bags and, as the hessian degrades, the seeds, collected by divers from underwater meadows in waters off the southern coasts of England and Wales, germinate and establish on the ocean bed.

The plan is to plant one million seeds while inspiring similar projects in other areas around the country. Seagrass restoration projects have been successful elsewhere, such as in Chesapeake Bay where a team from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science pioneered mechanical planting. They used a specially modified boat to plant seagrass seedlings directly into the seabed and successfully restored seagrass meadows that were destroyed by plant disease and hurricanes in the 1930s.

Not only does this boost the bay’s carbon-capturing ability, but it also led to another benefit as bay scallops have successfully been reintroduced to an area where they have been extinct since the hurricanes. Indeed, 20 percent of the world’s major fisheries depend on seagrass meadows to act as nurseries, Project Seagrass says.

Furthermore, seagrass plays a key role in stopping coastal erosion and, in the UK, many more species of fish live in or visit seagrass, compared to other habitats.

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