Seagrass meadows play a vital role in supporting the ecosystem near Studland Bay and will be mapped by a team from the University of Southampton.
The team brings together experts from the Schools of Ocean and Earth Science, Geography and Environmental Science and the In Situ and Remote Intelligent Sensing (IRIS) Centre of Excellence.
They will be working on the project in the Studland Bay Marine Conservation Zone with organisations from the Studland Bay Marine Partnership, including the National Trust and supported by the Dorset Coast Forum (DCF) as part of the Southampton Geospatial Initiative and Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute Research Collaboration Stimulus Fund.
Underwater meadows form a habitat for diverse fish species including sea bass, sea bream, and the iconic spiny seahorse. They may also play an important role in reducing the impact of coastal erosion within the bay.
Seagrass reduces the energy of waves and tidal currents and traps nutrients and particles of sand that would otherwise get washed away. Even the roots help bind the sediment together, making it harder to erode.
All these effects contribute to improving the resilience of Studland Bay’s sandy beaches, which attract over 1.5 million visitors each year.
In addition to local benefits, seagrass is highly effective at capturing and storing carbon within the sediment. Despite occupying less than 0.2% of the world’s seafloor, seagrass accounts for 10% of all the carbon that gets buried in ocean sediments and so it is major asset for mitigating climate change. However, seagrass is also one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems.
Promoting the health and preventing damage to seagrass meadows is an ecologically friendly, nature-based solution for coastal management.
The Studland Bay Marine Partnership involves conservation organisations, boat users and local community groups working together to help protect the seagrass by installing ‘eco-moorings’ within Studland Bay. These are designed to reduce boat anchor damage and so allow the seagrass and local biodiversity to thrive whilst maintaining the vibrant sailing and recreational activities within the bay.
Ten eco-moorings have been deployed so far, with support from boat folk and the Seahorse Trust, with plans to eventually install 100 eco-moorings.
The scientists and engineers will conduct a series of surveys over the summer using state-of-the art monitoring technologies, such as camera equipped robotic submersibles and autonomous boats to map the seagrasses and monitor their recovery from past anchor damage.
By building a comprehensive picture of the bay and its subtidal habitats, the scientists will be able to better advise on the implementation of nature-based solutions at Studland and identify safe, unvegetated access routes for vessels.
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