Under our shallow seas are hidden meadows of grass, these seagrasses play important ecological roles in marine ecosystems. But more recently, these unassuming plants of the sea have been noticed by scientists and governments as a natural solution in the fight to mitigate climate change.
What is Seagrass?
Seagrasses are a type of flowering plant known as an angiosperm belonging to the same family as terrestrial grasses. They have leaves, roots and rhizomes and in the same way as land-based grasses, take up nutrients from the sediment and energy through photosynthesis. Seaweeds, in comparison are a type of algae and do not perform these same functions.
Shetland Seagrass Species
Historically, Shetland had many areas of seagrass but some have been lost and the extent of others unknown. We are aiming to collect records of seagrass beds and map the current extent of the known beds around Shetland.
Eelgrass (Zostera marina)-
a subtidal seagrass growing to depths of 5m. It is the most common species of seagrass in the UK. In Shetland however, Eelgrass is restricted to only a handful of sheltered bays on the western coast such as Whiteness Voe. Historically, there were large beds in The Vadills SAC but these have now been lost.
Dwarf Eelgrass (Zostera noltei)-
the smallest British seagrass species. It is most commonly an intertidal species found in sheltered shallow muddy areas which become exposed at low tide. However, here in Shetland it is more likely to be found submerged in lagoons such as Loch of Hellister.
Beaked Tasselweed (Ruppia maritima)-
mainly found in sheltered brackish water within lagoons, lochs and salt marshes. In Shetland it is found in areas such as as Loch of Strom, Loch of Hellister and The Vadills SAC.
Why is Seagrass Important?
Seagrass provides a number of important functions for humans as well as other marine life…
Threats to Seagrass
In the UK we have lost approximately 44% of our seagrass since 1936. The primary threat to seagrass is Eutrophication. Excessive nutrients entering the water through run-off cause blooms in phytoplankton reducing light travelling to the seagrass and restricting their ability to photosynthesise.
Climate Change has also put multiple stresses onto seagrass beds through:
- Rising sea temperatures
- Increase in storm events
- Rising sea levels
- Changes in chemical concentrations in the water
Once damaged a seagrass bed can take a considerable length of time to recover and once lost, may never recover.
How You Can Help
We really need your help to record and map Shetland’s important seagrass habitats, you can get involved-
- By submitting records of seagrass you may spot whilst swimming/ snorkelling/ diving/ kayaking etc.
- By join us on a shore based seagrass hunt around our lochs and lagoons
- If you are a drone pilot you can get involved by helping us map the extent of known seagrass beds using video footage.
To find out more and to get involved please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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