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Seagrass loss around the UK is extensive and worrying, say scientists

A new study indicates that seagrass meadows around the UK may have declined by as much as 92 percent.

Frogfish in Seagrass
Frogfish Photography, North Wales. Richard Unsworth.

Seagrass meadows are essential to healthy marine ecosystems - supporting the UK’s fish stocks and helping to absorb and trap carbon from the atmosphere. This research definitively concludes that at least 44% of the UK’s seagrasses have been lost since 1936, of which 39% has been since the 1980s.

Published in Frontiers in Plant Science today, the study highlights an urgent need to conserve and restore current and degrading seagrass meadows in our efforts to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Dr Alix Green, lead author of the study, says:

Raising the profile of this undervalued ecosystem will undoubtedly support its protection and rejuvenation– Dr Alix Green

Seagrasses are one of the world’s largest global carbon sinks, storing carbon in marine soils many times faster than terrestrial forests, despite covering only 0.1% of the ocean floor. They are also essential to marine biodiversity and provide ecosystem services like nutrient cycling, and shoreline stability, and support coastal livelihoods.

The results of this study provide extra impetus to protect current seagrass meadows and attempt to restore those that have been degraded. Some seagrass meadows were found to have recovered from prior damage - an encouraging result that should motivate conservation initiatives.

Dr Green adds:

The catastrophic losses documented in this research are alarming but offer a snapshot of the potential of this habitat if efforts are made to protect and restore seagrass meadows across the UK. We hope that this work will spur continued, systematic mapping and monitoring of seagrass meadows across the UK and encourage restoration and rehabilitation projects. These meadows have the potential to support our bountiful fisheries and help us win the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. The UK is lucky to have such a resource in our waters, and we should fight to protect it!– Dr Alix Green

Dr Green was a student on the NERC DTP PhD programme, jointly supervised by Dr Michael Chadwick at King’s, Dr Peter Jones at University College London and Dr Richard Unsworth at the University of Swansea. She defended her PhD in 2020, previously having completed her MSc in the King’s Department of Geography.

Read the full paper Historical analysis exposes catastrophic seagrass loss for the United Kingdom 

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Michael Chadwick

Michael Chadwick

Senior Lecturer in Physical and Environmental Geography