What is Seagrass?
Seagrass, or eelgrass, is a type of marine grass that grows at various locations within the Milford Haven Waterway. Seagrass is a native flowering plant that grows rooted in seabed muddy sands, on the shore and underwater; it can form extensive meadows. While they may look similar, seagrasses are very different from seaweeds, which are a type of algae, not a flowering plant. There are two different species found locally. The one that grows subtidally is Zostera marina and the thinner and shorter intertidal species is Zostera nolti (known as Dwarf eelgrass).
Seagrass bed in Dale Bay
In 2020, following working with the local community and users in Dale and after consultation for the statutory marine licence processes, 2 hectares (approximately two rugby pitches) of seagrass (over 1 million seeds) were planted in Dale Bay as part of the first major seagrass restoration project in the UK.
The Seagrass Ocean Rescue Dale pilot project was a joint venture between Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Swansea University, with engagement support from Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum and the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Officer.
Dale Bay was selected due to the special features that seagrass requires to grow; it is a sheltered bay, with the right water quality, seabed conditions, depth and sufficient light. Unlike other locations in the Waterway, it does not suffer from nitrate pollution at a level that would significantly impact seagrass growth. It is believed that the bay was likely to have been home to a large seagrass meadow in the past – a small patch of naturally growing seagrass was found there in 2017, and there are a number of records in the literature of the presence of seagrass in Dale bay in the 1950’s. Some observations note that this had disappeared by the 1960’s. In fact, it is thought that the Haven waterway has lost several historic seagrass meadows due to intensive human activity, particularly through war time and in the 1950s, which damaged them beyond repair resulting in the current fragmented patches. The plants need a critical mass to enable recovery; they need extra seeds to be planted if seagrass is to be self-sustaining, and the Dale restoration project intends to demonstrate the capacity for restoration in UK waters.
The planted seagrass area is marked with buoys. There are two signage buoys on the Eastern boundary closest to the beach and three yellow visitor moorings on the Western boundary out near the outer pontoon. These are available as a facility for visiting boat users and are suitable for use by vessels up to a maximum length of 40 feet and maximum weight of 10 tonnes. Users are encouraged to make a donation (suggested £10 per night).
Dale Seagrass Stakeholder Group members (including local community, users and statutory organisations) will guide future management of the seagrass. If you have any concerns or information please contact…
Swansea University / Project Seagrass will be monitoring the seagrass to see how it is growing.
Benefits of Seagrass
- Seagrass meadows lock away carbon dioxide from our atmosphere at rates faster than rainforests, making seagrass habitat vitally important in the fight against climate change.
- Seagrass meadows are important habitats for marine species. Over 30 times more animals live within seagrass compared to adjacent areas of sediment. Seagrass offers protection for marine species such as juvenile fish and as such are important nursery grounds; over 50 different kinds of fish have been found in UK seagrass beds.
- Areas of seagrass help to spread and reduce water movement and wave energy, improving coastal defence.
- Seagrass also acts as a ‘filter’ by absorbing nutrients, chemicals and even bacteria resulting in improved water clarity.
Human impacts on Seagrass
Seagrass is impacted by high levels of nutrients and increased sedimentation (turbidity) that reduces light levels.
Any activity that results in physical disturbance of the root system can cause long-term damage. This includes dredging and trawling and intertidal digging. Anchoring and mooring is known to impact seagrass roots and can contribute to seabed patchiness and deterioration.
Bottom set ropes, lines and nets can pull off seagrass shoots that become entangled, but the impact is far less than that created by chains and anchors.
For more information on seagrass visit the Project Seagrass website www.projectseagrass.org
For more information on the wildlife of the waterway and management of the Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation see www.pembrokeshiremarinesac.org.uk