From Wildlife Extra:
Government urged to consider important UK seagrass areas
A newly formed NGO has responded in the consultation process to establish the next tranche of Marina Conservation Zones (MCZs).
There is an expanding body of literature illustrating how UK seagrass meadows play a significant role in supporting coastal biodiversity and fisheries productivity.
Seagrass meadows cycle nutrients, provide nursery habitat for young fish, are key foraging grounds for adult fish, prevent beach erosion, support human wellbeing, and harbour culturally significant species, such as seahorses.
Fish growing up in a seagrass meadow will have higher chances of reaching maturity and spawning a new generation than those in an alternative low quality nursery habitat such as bare sand.
However, the group says that UK seagrass meadows are under extreme pressure.
As primary producers living in sheltered coastal waters they are subjected to the problems associated with poor water quality and limited catchment management.
Anything that reduces light availability within the water column will result in stress to these plants.
This is compounded by other physical stressors such as anchor and mooring damage, destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, raking and bait digging, and coastal development eroding the long-term resilience of the seagrass systems.
Project Seagrass maintains that providing appropriate and widespread protection for these habitats has never been more urgent.
In a 2013 Swansea University survey throughout the British Isles only two important seagrass sites were found not to have been impacted by poor water quality.
Additional studies utilising GoogleEarth and site visits have revealed the extent of the threats imposed by the impact of inappropriate mooring damage on seagrass meadows throughout the UK.
In the new round of proposed MCZs, the seagrass meadows at Nettle and Mount Bay are included but, the group says, neither is extensive nor particularly threatened.
Adding protection to both of these sites may help in the long-term but is unlikely to have any immediate effect on their management or conservation; effectively these sites are ‘easy wins’ for MCZ creation as neither spots have particular value for alternative uses.
By contrast, seagrass meadows surrounding the North and East of the Isle of Wight and throughout the Solent are under extreme pressure, says the Project, and these have not been included.
The pressure is due to the cumulative impacts of poor water quality, boat use (anchor and mooring damage) and destructive fishing practices (bottom trawling, raking, bait digging).
In addition, seagrass meadows in many other areas of the south English coast, for example Studland Bay, are also under pressure from boat use (moorings and anchors) and, again, not included in the current MCZ proposals.
Project Seagrass says there exists sufficient scientific evidence for the long term protection of all seagrass meadows in the UK.
It has requested as part of its submission that DEFRA reconsider its exclusion of Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, Studland, and Yarmouth to Cowes from the 2nd tranche of MCZs.
Meadows in need of immediate action such as Bembridge, Norris to Ryde, Studland, and Yarmouth to Cowes must be included as MCZs, it says.
For more information visit www.projectseagrass.org.