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#YouBuyWePlant - Nursery News with Charlie Young.

 

Charlie Young is Marine Scientist and Feel Good Ambassador hailing from the rugged coastline of Pembrokeshire. Having spent her career researching the impacts of humans in the ocean, Charlie has joined the team to help inspire our community about seagrass and spread the word about our mission to restore these underwater meadows in collaboration with Project Seagrass
 
I love spending time in the garden, but not the kind that most would think of. My sort of leafy green Eden is one found underwater. In a wild and watery world.
Hidden beneath the waves, lacing sheltered corners of our coast, seagrass meadows are as lush and green as any other. They grow in dense, large groups giving them the appearance of a vast and lush grassland. Like their land based counterparts they photosynthesise and reproduce through underwater pollination, a process known as hydrophily. But instead of bees buzzing between their blades, it's fish that dance above these lawns.

The story of seagrass

Seagrass meadows can be found on every continent except Antarctica, ranging from the icy cold waters of the Arctic to the tropical lagoons of the equator. They are some of the oldest living organisms on Earth, with swathes of meadows in the Mediterranean thought to be as much as 200,000 years old – roughly the same length of time that modern day humans have existed! But despite having been around since the dawn of man, these ancient ecosystems cover less than 1% of the ocean’s surface, and this number is only dwindling.

In the mere 200,000 years, we have existed, humans have managed to push the planet and habitats like seagrass to the brink. As a marine scientist, I have dedicated my work and research to understanding the impacts of humans on our ocean, and it is through this work that I developed a deep rooted love and appreciation for seagrass.

For some, it might seem difficult to understand why anyone would get excited about these salt tolerant plants. And if my whimsical description of them didn’t convince you, then maybe these facts will.  

Seagrasses are one of our best weapons in the fight against climate change. These salty lawns are capable of absorbing carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. If left undisturbed, this “blue carbon” can be locked away in their biomass and sediments for millennia, meaning they can help us in the fight against rising carbon emissions. Alongside this, seagrass meadows support and bolster the lives of billions of people worldwide. They do this by providing an important nursery ground for many commercially important fish species - many species that end up on our dinner plates.

In the UK, we have two different species of seagrass: both are of the zostera species, commonly known as eelgrass. Like seagrass meadows worldwide, these habitats support our fisheries, protect our coastlines from erosion and clean our waters. Historically, our coasts were once laced with an abundance of these meadows. Now, only just over 8000 hectares remain – an area equivalent to the size of the city of Newcastle. 

Climate change, coastal development, destructive fishing, pollution and boat moorings have all fuelled the loss of these habitats, with only isolated patches still remaining. Fortunately, I am one of the lucky ones, with some of the last remaining meadows right on my doorstep here in Pembrokeshire.

A trip to the nursery

 

As a child, I spent days playing with my family on the beaches around Pendine, and so it was a funny thought to think that I was heading back years later, but for something much different.

Making my way to the end of a long straight road, a wooden hand painted sign with the words “Project Seagrass” written in fading green paint was the only clue I had arrived. As I turned the corner and followed the dirt track, a small polly tunnel and cargo container came into view. Behind it, a patchwork landscape of long shallow ponds. 

Outside the “office” – the cargo container I spotted – was the Project Seagrass team. Dashing over to meet them, I was greeted by the friendly faces of Elise, the nursery manager, Abbie, a PhD student focusing her work on the nursery and Bethan, their communications officer.

Until recently, the site had been used to farm worms for animal feed, but six months early, Project Seagrass acquired the land and is now undergoing the process of redesigning the site into the world’s first large-scale inland seagrass nursery. Pumping water from the estuary a couple of miles away to this inland site, seagrass will be grown in the vast open-air pools and the seeds it produces used to restore seagrass meadows around our coastlines.

As I spoke to the team, I was blown away by the ambition and task that lays ahead. Having looked after corals during my master’s degree in an aquarium setting, I had some idea of just what an undertaking growing seagrass outside of its natural setting, and at such a scale, would take! But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Project Seagrass.

Walking around the site, I felt the team's excitement as they explained their plans and their vision for the site. A nursery of this scale could be revolutionary. Sidestepping the challenges of diving, bad weather and harvesting enough seeds from natural sites, the nursery could help provide the hundreds of thousands of seeds they need to help scale their restoration efforts, taking their work to the next level.

With the foundations built, the team are steaming ahead with installing the filtration systems, scoping machinery to help with planting and getting the plumbing and chilling systems in place for managing the many variables they will need to control to keep these plants happy!

Leaving the site, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. Not only could this nursery be one of the most important steps in helping restore seagrass meadows in the UK, but around the world. Just the week before my visit, the first official global seagrass nursery network seminar had been held, bringing together experts to share ideas and findings. Lessons learnt from this humble nursery will continue to be shared with this network, and in time, the knowledge they gain will hopefully lead to more nurseries being established in other parts of the world.

It can be hard to stay optimistic in the fight to protect the planet. But this nursery gives me an overwhelming sense of hope. In a couple of months’ time, I will be back at the nursery and with the team to see how progress is going.

Until then, keep up to date with the #YouBuyWePlant campaign news on mine (@ocean_magpie) and the Feel Good social media pages!

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