The first year of our three-year restoration journey is nearing its end and what an incredible journey it has been thus far. The year has been punctuated by amazing experiences and learning opportunities, which you will hear more about throughout this blog. This first year has been a steep learning curve and a baptism of fire for us all. When I entered the fray back in April 2022, I was equipped with a fundamental knowledge of seagrass and an eagerness to make positive change, that desire is still there but my knowledge has come on leaps and bounds, over the last nine months. Our restoration ambitions have quickly become a reality and we are now tantalisingly close to planting our seagrass seeds. In this blog I will take you back through my first nine months on project and share excerpts from some of my cherished moments.
Isle of Wight – July 2022
The trip to the Isle of Wight was our first field trip where the full complement of the Restoration Forth seagrass team was in attendance, having already been to Loch Craignish earlier in the year with Marie (the seagrass officer at the Scottish Seabird Centre). The trip down south was an opportunity to observe and learn from the pros at Project Seagrass, on how to deliver practical seagrass restoration events. Our project partner, Project Seagrass, has two restoration trial sites (Ryde and Yarmouth) on the Isle of Wight as well as a harvesting area, which supplies the seeds necessary for their restoration efforts on the island. Our visit to Ryde was one of astonishment, quietly nestled into what was an active stretch of coast, thronging with beachgoers and the occasional hovercraft, was a flourishing seagrass meadow.
The reproductive potential of a seagrass meadow is phenomenal, the water was speckled yellow with a profusion of seed baring shoots. Unlike the distinctive olive-green colour analogous with seagrass meadows, the reproductive shoots visibly contrast with the rest of the meadow, which shimmer pale yellow or lime green. Seagrass seeds begin their reproductive journey closely resembling grains of rice tightly packaged in their spathes before advancing on to what mirrors peas in a pod. We were after the peas that day, as the rice still had still some maturing to do. Carefully snapping the reproductive shoots at their natural break points, we avoided causing any damage to the plants. Over the course of the afternoon our mesh bags steadily took shape with the addition of our green gold. This was an ideal introduction into how to conduct volunteer involved restoration, tranquil conditions, tepid water temperatures and plenty of eager participants. The former two conditions were in short demand over the course of the following months, but the enthusiasm was there in bucket-loads.
Figure 1: Mesh bag of seagrass on Ryde beach. Photo credit: Lewis M Jefferies
Before heading back to Scotland, we visited Yarmouth, where previous planting trials had been undertaken. Duck diving in turbid water, we felt our way along the seabed for cocktail skewers (strange, but stay with me), these skewers more commonly associated with a dry martini than the seafloor, were the holdfast for the seed filled hessian bags. Gently plucking them from their sanctuary in the sand, we brought them to the surface for inspection and to our glee, all but a few had newly germinated shoots.
Figure 2: Marie & Lyle with hessian bags. Photo credit: Lewis M Jefferies
Porthdinllaen – August 2022
Porthdinllaen (pronounced Porth-din-cline), is a remote coastal town located on the Llŷn peninsula in northern Wales. The clear waters of the bay are host to a pristine seagrass meadow alive with marine activity. Much like our trip to the Isle of Wight, albeit slightly colder and windier, we were there to attend another seagrass seed harvesting event. With our plucking skills refined we were like well-oiled machines by this point, closely resembling the marine equivalent of a combine harvester. Instead of the seeds being used for restoration purposes, the seeds collected that week, were sent to south Wales to Project Seagrass’s nursery, where they would be used in germination trials.
Figure 3: Seagrass reproductive shoots in Porthdinllaen
Orkney – August 2022
The moment we had been eagerly awaiting, it was finally our time to get our hands dirty collecting seeds of our own, for restoration efforts back in the Forth. The Orkney Islands are fortunate to still hold onto areas abundant in seagrass, they have narrowly escaped the desperate fate many other meadows around the UK have faced. We were in Orkney not only because of the surplus of healthy meadows, but because they belong to the same genetic cluster found in the Forth. Scotland consists of two genetic clusters, a west coast, and an east coast. By adhering to Marine Scotland’s biosecurity protocol, our restoration efforts would maintain the regional genetic diversity of seagrass found in the Forth.
Figure 4: Team Seagrass in Orkney. Photo credit: Marie Seraphim
Just before we could get underway, the team (Esther, Marie, Andy, and I) had to conduct reproductive density surveys on our donor meadows, to ensure we weren’t going to impact the meadows’ reproductive capacity, by over collecting seeds. Once our surveys were complete, we were free to collect to our hearts content. We busied ourselves twice a day, coinciding with the low tides, so our arms could amply reach the reproductive shoots. Strapped to the teeth in our 7mm neoprene body armour, we braved the cold Orcadian waters. Despite the cold conditions (even in summer), the waters were magical and chock-full of marine life, from juvenile fish seeking refuge, to sea angels (free swimming sea slugs) gracefully floating amongst the blades, to hermit crabs scuttling about the meadow floor.
Video 1: Flat fish hiding amongst the seagrass
Our Orcadian adventure quickly came to an end, and we were to return to the Forth with our seeds of hope. The reproductive material was headed to the Ecology Centre, where the Restoration Forth’s seagrass processing unit was based. The seagrass would be left in six 120 litre tanks filled with fresh seawater, to allow the material to naturally decay in order for the seeds to be released.
Figure 5: Seagrass Processing. (Top left - Nathan assisting with a water change, Top right - seagrass suspended in fresh seawater, Bottom - seagrass seeds)
Seed Processing and Storage – September to December 2022
The Ecology Centre was a hive of activity in those last few months of the year, from water changes to seagrass snipping and seed sorting events, the Restoration Forth team and a myriad of volunteers meticulously sorted through the material to extract the all-important seeds. A 108 community volunteers put in a champion effort with a collective 484 hours spent snipping, sorting, and separating out seeds, over 7 events. Once separated the seeds went into storage in early December for a winter of hibernation, which will help to reduce the recruitment bottlenecks facing seed-based restoration. By storing the seeds over the winter, we have limited the potential loss of seeds to winter storms and predation.
Figure 6: Seagrass seed sorting. Photo Credit: Lauren Simmonds
I would like to personally thank all those committed community volunteers who have contributed to our restoration efforts thus far, it has been a mammoth undertaking and we couldn’t have done it with out your incredible contributions. The next big moment in our restoration journey will be taking place later this spring, when we will be planting our seeds of hope. Stay tuned for more updates on when this will be taking place, or please visit the Restoration Forth's webpage hosted by WWF for more event information, by clicking here.