Seagrass: The Solent’s Superhero
Beneath the waves of the Solent are hidden underwater gardens of seagrass. These marine flowering plants are known for increasing biodiversity in our coastal waters. However, they are now beginning to gain widespread recognition for their potential to reduce the effects of climate change and what better time to celebrate this superstar marine plant than during Seagrass Awareness Month, which spans all of March.
Seagrasses typically occur along shallow, sheltered marine coastlines and estuaries, from the Tropics to the Arctic Circle. They have roots, grass-like leaves and produce flowers and seeds. Under the right conditions, these plants can grow to form flourishing, green underwater meadows which provide food and shelter for an array of wonderful marine life.
The seagrass meadows in the Solent are of international importance. They support rich biodiversity, including amazing species such as sea anemones, stalked jellyfish, sea slugs, pipefish and seahorses. They act as nurseries for commercially important fish species, such as cod and sea bass, the latter of which spend up to seven years growing in the Solent before joining the migratory adult population. Cuttlefish visit the seagrass meadows to breed as well, attaching their black eggs known as ‘sea grapes’ to the seagrass leaves. Seagrass also provides a major food source for brent geese, which make the 3000-mile journey from Siberia to the Solent every year for a milder winter.
Seagrasses are incredibly important allies in the fight against climate change. They absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the surrounding seawater and their long leaves slow the flow of water, which encourages settlement of carbon-rich sediment down into the seabed where it is then buried and locked away. This amazing plant also improves our water quality and protects our shores from coastal erosion by slowing wave energy with their leaves and by stabilising soft seabed sediments with their roots.
Sadly, seagrass is disappearing. We’ve lost over 90% of our seagrass meadows in the UK over the past century. Disease, physical disturbance from dragging anchors and chain moorings, as well as human-induced threats such as pollution are putting seagrass under significant pressure.
At Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, we’re working to protect and restore our seagrass meadows. By monitoring and surveying existing seagrass beds and planting sustainably collected seagrass seeds, we hope to restore these amazing habitats towards their historic levels and create a wilder Solent, for both people and wildlife.
To learn more and find out how to get involved, visit hiwwt.org.uk/seagrass-restoration
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, Beechcroft House, Vicarage Lane, Curdridge, Hampshire, SO32 2DP