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Community snorkellers and volunteers marked a milestone in Scottish inshore marine habitat restoration recently by harvesting and planting seagrass in Loch Craignish.
More than 60 snorkellers and volunteers from the Craignish peninsula, students from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and volunteers from across Scotland took part in the project which aims to extend an existing meadow by a quarter of a hectare at Loch Craignish.
The Loch Craignish-based charity Seawilding has partnered with Project Seagrass and SAMS to deliver Scotland’s first community-led seagrass restoration project.
Seawilding and members of the Craignish community are running it, while Project Seagrass provides technical oversight and SAMS, environmental monitoring and environmental DNA sampling.
Seagrass – Zostera marina – is a vital inshore marine habitat which sequesters carbon faster than a rainforest and turns bare sand habitat into a structurally complex, productive ecosystem full of marine life.
It’s also a key nursery ground for commercially important fish species such as cod, pollack, whiting and plaice, as well as herring and sea bass.
Up to 92 per cent of seagrass meadows have disappeared around the UK coastline.
At Loch Craignish, there are 10 small degraded meadows and the project, funded by NatureScot’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund, aims to enhance the existing meadows this autumn, while trialling different restoration methodologies.
If successful, the Seawilding team plan to roll out the methodology to other coastal community groups to help them restore seagrass in their sea areas.
During the weekend of August 21 and August 22, community volunteers learned about the incredible ‘eco-services’ of seagrass, snorkelled through the seagrass meadows, harvested the seed by hand, processed it at Seawilding’s on-site centre and planted 10,000 seeds in small hessian bags which give the germinating plants purchase on the seabed.
‘It’s been an exciting weekend and a real eye-opener for so many to get in the water and see for themselves the wonders of the seagrass meadows,’ said Danny Renton, Seawilding’s chief executive officer.
‘Community-led initiatives like these are a really important first step in our efforts to restore the health of the inshore marine environment which has been hammered by over-fishing, scallop dredging and bottom trawling and pollution from aquaculture.
‘It’s empowering for community volunteers to get into the water and make an active difference to restore lost bio-diversity. It’s onwards and upwards for us.’
Seawilding is working with communities to restore the keystone species, native oysters and seagrass to Scottish inshore waters to restore bio-diversity and sequester carbon.
The charity plans to restore one million native oysters to Loch Craignish over the next five years and has already introduced nearly 250,000.
Native oysters were once common in many sea lochs but as a result of human predation and pollution, they are now rare.
They filter and clean the water and form complex 3D reefs which become fish spawning and nursery grounds. By developing low-cost methodologies to help restore the degraded inshore marine environment, Seawilding hopes to roll-out its projects to other coastal communities.