The Community Seagrass Initiative (CSI) is a partnered project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund led by National Marine Aquarium in conjunction with University of Plymouth, Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, Living Coasts, SEALIFE Weymouth and Dorset Wildlife Trust.
The CSI is a citizen science project which covered the 191 mile stretch of coastline from Looe in Cornwall to Weymouth in Dorset – engaging volunteers and offering opportunities to help monitor the health and biodiversity of seagrass beds, with sailors, kayakers, divers and even internet users. There are also a major public engagement element which will aim to connect the coastal community with this important element of our natural heritage. Seagrass beds support a number of protected species of marine life and both habitat and species are under threat from a range of coastal activities. The project aimed to reduce disturbance of seagrass beds through awareness raising and data collection with an aim to advise policy makers on the current conditions of this habitat.
Seagrass is one of the world’s only marine flowering plants, which creates large meadows in shallow waters on sandy seabed. There are many seagrass meadows, or beds, around the South West of the UK and West coast of Scotland. The meadows act like an underwater rainforest, providing shelter for all sorts of marine species, on an otherwise featureless seabed. Seagrass meadows are home to some of the most charismatic species in the UK such as seahorses and cuttlefish, and act as a nursery ground for commercial fish species. They can also improve water quality and stabilise sediments, reducing coastal erosion.
Project officers who coordinated all aspects of the project are Project Manager Mark Parry based at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, Jess Mead based at Weymouth SEALIFE Adventure park and Rachel Cole based at Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust in Torbay, as well as the many volunteers who got involved.
Being a citizen science project, it CSI was centred on volunteers taking part and getting involved in active science! With specific training sessions for each group of volunteers, this was part of one of the most unique marine surveys of its kind in the South West. Volunteers got involved by:
Monitoring seagrass locations from PADI Advanced Open Water or equivalent divers, to count seagrass and animals found on seagrass.
Using the project’s bespoke towed underwater camera system to confirm locations of seagrass and search for new locations.
Visiting seagrass locations and take water clarity measurements to see how much light is reaching the seabed and how much light is available for seagrass to grow.
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