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  1. Wealth
April 15, 2020

Why a ‘rejuvenated’ UK marine environment is essential

By Spear's

At Project Seagrass we are hoping to lead to a rejuvenated UK marine environment and prevent a much worse and far more damaging pandemic, write Richard Unsworth and Richard Lilley

In times like these, it can be difficult to look beyond the immediate and to think about anything other than one’s primary needs. As stress rises, we can experience anxiety, become distracted and suffer impaired function. It can be difficult to think beyond the next hour, let alone the next year.

At times like this we suffer collectively from a decreased awareness, a collective perceptual narrowing which can cause us to overlook things that would normally be front and centre of our agenda. At this time, our primary consideration will of course be concern for our families, our friends and our community.

Volunteer snorkelers from Project Seagrass collect seagrass seeds from the seabed.

Indeed, for many we would imagine this is also coupled with a genuine desire to think about how we can personally play our part in bringing this pandemic to an end. We have all seen Bill Gates 2015 TED talk ‘The next outbreak. We’re not ready’, and however prescient this current crisis may have been, it is not the only challenge we face.

Collectively we must use this time to reflect on our future. How do we want to emerge from this period? What do we want our world to look like post-pandemic? Let the next crisis not be another case of ‘I told you so’. We firmly believe that the coronavirus crisis can teach us lessons that will help us to address the other crises that are currently being overlooked; that of the biodiversity crisis and the climatic emergency.

Indeed, to utilise the current parlance we need to ‘flatten those curves’ too, and with the same collective urgency that we have shown in the past few months. Their exponential growth timescales might operate in years, rather than days, but that makes addressing these issues no less of an immediate challenge – just perhaps a little more challenging to conceptualise. Addressing these crises feels all the more relevant right now given our knowledge that one way that biodiversity loss threatens human health is by exacerbating risk and incidence of infectious diseases. We all want to avoid pandemic 2.0.

Fortunately, whilst scientists around the globe are working around the clock to find a cure for coronavirus, scientists like us have been (and still are) working to find a cure for biodiversity loss and climate change. It is time to make greater environmental, and therefore economic resiliency core to our strategy for the recovery ahead.

At Project Seagrass we are at the start of what we hope to be our own exponential growth curve as we seek to restore critical marine habitats around the UK coast.

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Did you know that one of the most critical habitats in support of our fisheries have been decimated around the coast of the UK? These habitats are also one of the UK’s best natural solutions to fight both climate change and marine biodiversity loss.

Seagrass meadows are, no doubt, the unsung heroes of the ocean. These once extensive coastal areas covered in underwater plants support a fifth of the world’s biggest fisheries, including the Atlantic cod. They promote biodiversity and help to nurture the young fish that British fishing fleets depend on to keep fish stocks healthy. They also absorb carbon from our atmosphere at rates faster than many rainforests do, and help filter our coastal waters to keep them clean.

Volunteer divers from Project Seagrass gathering seeds from the seabed.

Our UK oceans are in a perilous state. The UK has lost an area of seagrass the size of 47,000 football pitches, resulting in coastal environments that are often lifeless. The good news is that we can reverse these gigantic and widespread historic losses. One significant opportunity is to invest in the restoration of seagrass at large scale, creating critical fisheries habitat for more sustainable coastal livelihoods and at the same time starting the fightback at a changing climate.

Project Seagrass is a marine conservation charity based in the UK that is taking up this challenge by trying to find investors and philanthropists keen to support the restoration of our once incredibly productive UK seas. Working with Swansea University, Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF and collaborating with local communities and government, we’ve set up a scheme to create a living exhibition of our solution to restore our seagrass meadows by planting two hectares, enabling coastal communities to become custodians of the created habitat.

Nevertheless, we want to find investors and philanthropists to help take this to a level whereby it begins to transform our Great British seas to be places we are proud of, with fisheries that once again support coastal communities and with coastlines protected from the challenges of a changing climate.

By proposing a 30 by 30 target for seagrass restoration (30km-squared by 2030) we want to bring together the worlds of technology, education and science to inspire the recovery, recognition and restoration of seagrass in the UK. To make this happen we need the support of people such as Spear’s readers to get involved and invest. Seagrass meadows aren’t a likely destination for philanthropic and investor monies, particularly when minds are currently turned towards PPE, ventilators and vaccines. But the time for supporting climate and biodiversity solutions is also now (in fact it was yesterday, but the next best time is now). We need to flatten that carbon dioxide curve immediately since it too is growing exponentially.

Our proposed target goes beyond conservation, this initiative would help increase community perseverance, improve coastal infrastructure and enhance socio-economic well-being. The coast is on the frontline of climate change, where communities and infrastructure face the consequences of rising sea level and intensifying storms.

These threats are of national importance and just like the challenges of Covid-19, climate change requires a response from all levels of society. At Project Seagrass we are hoping to inspire those responses to lead to a rejuvenated UK marine environment and prevent, and to prevent a much worse and far more damaging pandemic 2.0.

Richard Unsworth and Richard Lilley are directors of Project Seagrass

Images: © Lewis Jefferies / WWF-UK

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