Seagrass restoration could reverse marine biodiversity decline

Seagrass seedlings growing underwater in the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research at Swansea University Seagrass seedlings growing underwater in the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research at Swansea University

Researchers at Swansea University are developing a means of restoring endangered seagrass meadows in the UK by growing mats of these marine plants to replace previously damaged habitat.

Divers at Swansea University last summer collected seed containing fruits of the seagrass Zostera marina at Helford River (Cornwall) and Torbay. The seeds were then separated once dropped and have now begun to germinate in aquaria facilities at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR). Seagrass scientists working within the SEACAMS project are now developing a means of growing the hundreds of germinating seedlings into seagrass mats that can be readily deployed into the marine environment for habitat restoration.

Project leader Dr Richard Unsworth said that restoring seagrass can be really important for fisheries productivity as these habitats provide critically important nursery habitat for a range of commercially important fish species such as cod, pollock and whiting.

“By growing seagrass into mats from seedlings we hope to create sections of resilient habitat that can be used to restore the biodiversity and productivity of marine habitats in the UK, in turn helping our beleaguered fish stocks”, he said.

Estimates suggest that over the last 100 years the UK has lost over 50% of its seagrass meadows and many seagrass meadows in the UK continue to be under threat and are being continually degraded. Seagrasses are not just important for fisheries and biodiversity, they also help trap and store carbon dioxide, filter the coastal seawater and help stabilise coasts.

The research team will be conducting trial deployments of these seagrass mats in summer 2014. A series of different methods will be examined in order to determine the most effective methods to enable future large scale restoration projects.

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