When you live on a remote Scottish island, getting away for the weekend is often not straightforward. There’s a lot of anxiously checking weather apps to make sure it’s going to be calm enough for the ferry to run. And you have to have a contingency plan in case you get stranded on your return journey. Sometimes luck is not on your side. BUT the stars were aligned last month on August 13th and 14th for my visit to Seawilding‘s Wild Seas Weekend in Loch Craignish. I hopped on the ferry with my bike and a pal’s tent and had a great sunny day learning about seagrass!
Restoring seagrass meadows in Loch Craignish
Seawilding is a community-led marine habitat restoration project in Loch Craignish (mid-Argyll, Scotland). It is working to restore seagrass meadows and native oysters. It planted 1/4 hectare of seagrass in the loch in 2021 and estimates there is still 80 hectares of seabed that could be restored. The first seagrass sprouted in spring 2022. Myself and other visitors were lucky enough to snorkel out to the meadows and help harvest the mature seeds.
I’ve been interested in learning more about seagrass ever since I saw fellow ocean-loving freelancer Melissa Hobson getting involved with Project Seagrass. It’s a fascinating plant. It’s pretty unassuming but it’s an absolute powerhouse for supporting marine life and fighting climate change by sequestering carbon and producing oxygen.
As well as wanting to learn more about seagrass in general, I was keen to understand whether seagrass restoration might be a viable option on the Isle of Jura (where I live). Part of Seawilding’s work is educating and empowering other coastal communities to carry out marine habitat restoration.
I’ll tell you more about the Wild Seas Weekend in a moment but, first, here’s what I learnt about seagrass...
What is seagrass and why is it important?
Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that can grow under the sea. They are a ‘keystone species’, which means they are essential for creating a healthy ecosystem. Seagrasses produce beautiful underwater meadows that are havens for marine wildlife and nurseries for juvenile fish. In Loch Craignish, Seawilding has recorded over 50 species of fish, such as the sea stickleback, as well as invertebrates such as molluscs, shrimp and marine worms.
Seagrass is also vital in the fight against climate change as it’s an incredible carbon sink. This means it draws large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it underwater. (Fun fact, whales and jellyfish do this too – just not as powerfully as seagrass). Seagrass rivals rainforests and peatlands in its ability to sequester carbon.
So… Why is it important to restore it? According to Seawilding, globally, we have lost 92% of our seagrass. In the UK, 95% of seagrass meadows have disappeared from coastal waters due to dredging, pollution and disease. Restoring seagrass meadows is now considered to be a top priority in the fight against climate change.
Seagrass harvesting, processing and planting
At the Wild Seas Weekend, those of us who were up for getting in the water (me, always!) got to put on our wetsuits and snorkel out to see the seagrass. Then our instructors showed us how to harvest the seeds on the way back.
I’m not going to lie, I found it very fiddly and did not collect many seeds! But it was really cool seeing the meadows. In amongst the seagrass were tiny fish, anemones and other creatures who were clearly loving the healthy habitat.
Back on the beach, we helped to process the seeds and pop them into biodegradable hessian sacks filled with sand. The sacks protect the seeds from being eaten and the sand helps to weigh the sacks down so that they don’t float away. As the seeds germinate and sprout, the hessian sacks decompose and leave no trace in the loch.
I think we managed to fill about 100 sacks in total. For the keen beans like me who stayed around all day, we got to put our snorkels back on and help plant the new seagrass seeds in the sea bed. It was just a case of dropping the bags so they floated down to the sea bed. Hopefully, by next spring, the new seagrass seeds will have sprouted to form a healthy new meadow!
A magical underseas weekend
All in all, it was a super inspiring and educational day in Loch Craignish. Floating amongst the seagrass meadows was ‘magical’… It’s so beautiful to see marine life thriving. I also spoke to the team about potential marine restoration on Jura, so I’ll keep you updated if anything comes of that!
My weekend was topped off with a night camping by the sea in Tayvallich (the village where you catch the ferry back to Jura). On the Sunday, I met my friend/outdoor swim coach Dan The Merman to go snorkelling in the Argyll Hope Spot. It was a truly special eco-conscious weekend spent in nature with kind and inspiring people.
If you’re interested in learning more about seagrass, check out Seawilding’s website for more info.
Until next time…
Keep making waves!