Photograph: Pix / Alamy
Kevin grins from ear to ear at the sight of a common periwinkle. This graceful, striped mollusk, clinging to a sandstone where the Solent laps the peach-colored sands of St Helens Beach, speaks to Kevin about something pleasantly enduring in the natural world. Like most members of our group of 12, Kevin signed up for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Coastal Survey Volunteer Day to help ease his climate anxiety.
“It’s nice to do something about our coastal environment rather than sitting at home worrying about ecosystem collapse,” he says; the last time he poked around in the rock pools was as a child in the 1970s.
Kevin and I stand side by side, up to our rubber ankles in a rocky Isle of Wight pool, marveling at the marine life around our feet. There are shellfish of all sizes, and yards of blonde blisters; there are the peculiar potato-shaped organisms known as sea splashes and, more in the intertidal zone where green seaweed gives way to golden and red hues, today’s Holy Grail: a group of flowering marine plants representing a of the brightest hopes when it comes to tackling climate change.
“Seagrasses are the unknown heroes of marine ecosystems,” says Emily Stroud, a marine biologist who is conducting today’s intertidal survey of the Isle of Wight. “They absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the surrounding seawater and their long leaves slow the flow of water, which encourages the carbon to settle to the sea floor, where it is then buried. These little stars also protect us from coastal erosion. “
It is common for seagrasses to be removed so that a beach looks more like postcards
Unfortunately, in most global contexts, this industrious marine flora – which includes common ribbon-shaped eels, flat-fronted enhalus grass, and Mediterranean species such as Neptune grass – are in retreat. More than 90% of Britain’s algae were lost, and much of that destruction occurred in the 20th century, when poor water quality caused by rapid industrialization led to a wasting disease that wiped out the our native meadows. Sediment and turbidity have played their part, as have the physical damage caused by anchors and fishing nets, commercial seaweed production, and the tourism industry, particularly in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, where the desire of pristine-looking beaches has led to the removal of seagrasses.
The story continues
As Stroud sees it, seagrasses are a prime example of the wonders our shores have in store if we are willing to protect these precious habitats rather than deface them for our narrow view of what constitutes a beach idyll.
“It is common for seagrasses to be removed so that a beach looks more like postcards,” says Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, founder of Project Seagrass. In partnership with the Wildlife Trust, Project Seagrass is working to raise awareness of this underestimated habitat, while pilot projects in the Isle of Wight and Pembrokeshire explore how best to regrow Britain’s eroded intertidal orchards.
A male of cuckoo wrasse. Photograph: Johan Furusjo / Alamy
In 2021, the Wildlife Trust undertook its first deployment of 1,025 mixed seaweed seed bombs in mudflats on the Isle of Wight Langstone Harbor; they will mature into adult seagrasses this summer.
In addition to monitoring the presence and health of Solent seagrasses, we are here today to monitor intertidal animal and algae species. The trust’s volunteer survey data, along with data from the Wildlife Trust’s Shoresearch program, will be used by Government Councilor Natural England to monitor the effects of global warming. In a survey in 2020, the team spotted the bright pink eggs of a breeding sea hare, a pink-nosed sea snail most commonly found on the California coast. Brightly colored European wrasse and cuckoo have been recorded in Keyhaven in Hampshire.
“There are some species that we keep an eye on,” says Stroud, “as they are indicators of climate change, such as peacock tail algae. We’re on the eastern edge for that scarce species here, so if its dispersal starts moving further north, we can assume something is seriously taking place with sea temperatures. “
Navy volunteer colleague Sarah wants to organize a weekend rock pool school for the children of the Isle of Wight and is eager to learn about her fragile stars from her bryozoans. “It’s not really swimming cozzie and sunglasses,” she laughs.
We peer under the rocks as seagulls caw around us and kitesurfers whiz across a bay bathed in spring sunshine. “Look,” she says, her camera pointed at a rock pool that glows with an almost metallic cobalt, reflecting the blue sky above. As Kevin carries notes on which he jots down our living discoveries, Sarah cautiously picks up a green crab, which has a rounder abdomen than a female, and wiggles its shapely legs around her fingers. “Nice, right?” Sarah says, in awe.
We don’t have the risk assessment to turn you into mermaids
Today’s navy volunteers are a mixed bunch: locals like Sarah and Kevin, but also visitors from the mainland like me. In the summer, Stroud tells me, they see more land dwellers, combining a period of maritime volunteer work with a trip to the beautiful rooms of Queen Victoria’s old age retreat, Osborne House, or the island’s other eco-friendly attractions, including Tapnell Farm. , where I stay.
A former dairy in the west of the island, Tapnell is one of Britain’s few positive-energy family resorts. It sends enough electricity to the grid to power 100 homes each year, at a site that features eco pods made from natural materials and supplied by water from a borehole, a low-power restaurant, and an animal rescue center housing wallabies, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs and meerkats.
Related: My eagle-eyed winter roams the Isle of Wight
In St Helens, with the sun setting over the Solent, it is time for this group of budding naval champions to retire before the tide comes. “We don’t have the risk assessment to turn you into mermaids!” our leader shouts through 12 heads, which are curiously bent over rocky ponds like spring daffodils.
“Did you know that common limpet teeth are the strongest natural material ever found on Earth?” Stroud asks, gesturing with a blade of green-fringed eel grass that had been uprooted in the intertidal zone. “They are stronger than diamonds: isn’t that fantastic?”
And with that we’re heading back across the rock pools in our rubber boots, with a nice glow that beats any beach tan.
• Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Grassland Survey Volunteer Days are free and take place at various locations . Accommodation was provided by Tapnell Farm, whose four-bed pod cost from £ 112 one night. Ferry transport was provided by Wightlink, which has a new low-carbon hybrid ship, Victoria Isle of Wight, from Portsmouth to Fishbourne , returns from £ 26. 80 (on foot or by bicycle). Three more beach-saving vacations
Garbage collection at the beach, Cornwall Plastic waste is the bane of many coastal areas, as it affects water quality and suffocates wildlife. From the secluded coves of Polperro to the vast sands of Penzance, Clean Cornwall organizes regular, small-scale, county-wide cleanups that anyone can participate in. cleancornwall.org
Seaweed plantation, Pembrokeshire The Seagrass Project’s first large-scale project, Seagrass Ocean Rescue, is restoring a huge seagrass meadow in Dale, West Wales, with seedlings harvested from seeds collected along the British coast. Find volunteer opportunities on the Facebook group volunteer page. facebook.com
Searching for algae, Scottish coast The Scottish coast is home to some of the largest CO deposits in the world 2– Preservation of algae. In partnership with the Natural History Museum, the Big Seaweed Search volunteer program helps map the distribution of 14 key algae species to preserve their health and future ocean diversity. Register for free, download the registration form and find information on the mcsuk.org sites