Seagrass is delicate and can be damaged by shore- and water-based activities such as beach cycling, bait digging, digging by dogs, dragged/ grounded kayaks, windsurfing, paddle boarding, diving and horse riding.

How can people reduce their impacts?

Be aware of seagrass areas to avoid disturbing them. Our habitat maps highlight seagrass areas in the project’s five Special Areas of Conservation.

Seagrasses are especially fragile and, unlike the lawns in our gardens, they are sensitive to trampling so it is important to avoid these areas when dragging heavy kayaks or paddle boards to the water, or when cycling through the intertidal zone.

Horse riders can help by avoiding seagrass areas, while everyone can help by respecting any signs and fences.

Plymouth paddle boarding/Ocean Conservation Trust
Plymouth paddle boarding/Ocean Conservation Trust
Isles of Scilly seagrass
Isles of Scilly seagrass/Fiona Crouch

 

As a flowering plant seagrass is also sensitive to localised pollution and nutrient enrichment. Seagrass is a slow growing, annual species which dies back in the winter. This makes it susceptible to competition from smothering macroalgae.

Visitors to the intertidal zone should always “bag and bin” their dog poo and discourage digging behaviours. Penetration of the seabed through dog digging, extensive bait digging and low-level bait digging near seagrass habitats can resuspend fine silt which impacts the water clarity. This reduces the photosynthesis capability of seagrass and therefore reduces its resilience.

When using high powered watercraft, such as jet skis, maintain a slow speed until in water greater than 2 metres deep to avoid scouring the seabed. Currents and wash associated with jet skis can also scour sediment, fauna and flora from the seabed. As exposed sediments are usually of a different grain size composition and oxygen content, recolonisation after a scour event is slow.

When diving it is important to keep off the bottom and maintain good buoyancy to avoid stirring up the sediment, disturbing benthic creatures and reducing visibility.

Volunteer diver. Photo credit Joanna Cooper
Volunteer diver/Joanna Cooper

What is ReMEDIES doing to mitigate recreational impacts?

In Essex, with seagrass beds at just 2 per cent of their historic maximum extents, ReMEDIES and Essex Wildlife Trust are looking to observe recreational disturbances taking place at key seagrass locations around Essex to identify hotspots of risk.

It is hoped that identifying these areas and their associated disturbances, targeted information and education campaigns, and the adoption of Voluntary Codes of Conduct, can reduce disturbance levels and allow the seagrass beds to flourish once again.

In 2021, Natural England is updating their condition assessment of seagrass in Essex, which will help to influence any management actions.

Mooring & trampling disturbance, Leigh on Sea/Alan Kavanagh
Mooring & trampling disturbance, Leigh on Sea/Alan Kavanagh