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Experts are calling for the local community and boat users to take action to protect Tor Bay’s seagrass and the species, such as long-snouted seahorse, that live within it.

On World Seagrass Day (1st March 2021) Wild Planet Trust, a leading South West conservation charity, wants to focus attention on the importance of Tor Bay’s vulnerable seagrass meadows and how crucial it is we work together on the #SaveOurSeagrass campaign.

Seagrass is a remarkable plant as it is able to lock in CO2 more efficiently than rainforests. Seagrass meadows, such as those in Tor Bay, are a crucial part of the marine eco-system, protecting our shores and helping to combat climate change.   

Wild Planet Trust has been monitoring Tor Bay’s seagrass meadows as part of the #SaveOurSeagrass campaign since 2017. The seagrass meadows in Tor Bay are a vital nursery bed for young fish and home to key seahorse species including the protected long-snouted seahorse.  A recent survey of the seagrass meadows, conducted in October 2020, indicated the seagrass may have benefited from a quieter period of marine traffic, in the spring and early summer of 2020 due to the pandemic. However, the charity is concerned that the fragile seagrass is threatened by pollution and by indiscriminate anchoring, which can unknowingly rip plants from the seabed. 

Although the seagrass areas in Tor Bay are voluntary no anchoring zones, Wild Planet Trust is actively looking to encourage water enthusiasts and boat users to respect the seagrass by not anchoring at the known seagrass locations  and use permitted moorings. 

“We understand many people use the waters in Tor Bay.  However, anchoring in the wrong place damages the seagrass and threatens the wildlife that live amongst it” said Dr Tracey Hamston, Conservation Officer at Wild Planets Trust.

“We are very excited about the prospect of introducing new eco-moorings hopefully this summer, if funding is approved. These new environmentally friendly moorings will allow boat users to moor up, whilst protecting the seagrass below and allowing the seagrass currently damaged by traditional anchorage methods to recover.  The protection these moorings provide is also welcomed by local people who enjoy diving and snorkelling among this beautiful habitat“ Dr Hamston added.

Many UK seagrass beds have decreased in size over the past century. Whilst boat traffic and indiscriminate anchoring is a major contributor to this decline, equally damaging is pollution. Certain types of pollution within the water, encourages the growth of algae on the seagrass, reducing the light available to the leaves, effectively smothering the seagrass which can destroy whole seagrass meadows.

“Global estimates suggest the planet loses an area of seagrass the same size as two football pitches every hour.  Pollution is a major threat to seagrass and we’re appealing to the public to help us prevent litter and pollution impacting on the seagrass meadows in Tor Bay.

“Although it is out of sight for many of us, seagrass is so important to the planet. Alongside the vital role seagrass meadows play in supporting and nurturing fish populations, the seagrass eco-systems play an outsized role in combatting the climate crisis. They are one of the planet’s most efficient stores of carbon and act as a carbon sink.  We are very fortunate to have these seagrass meadows in Tor Bay and its imperative we all act together to protect and conserve them” concluded Dr Hamston.

The #SaveOurSeagrass campaign is supported by Totnes-based underwater measuring instrument manufacturer, Valeport, who for the last year has helped to secure the project’s future as well as providing instruments and expertise to the programme.

Wild Planet Trust is also currently consulting with key regional stakeholders to develop ways to introduce more sustainable marine tourism to the Torbay region.

The #SaveourSeagrass project uses a team of volunteer divers to survey key seagrass sites in the Bay, investigating changes over time; in 2019 they completed 16 dives across 6 seagrass sites (all in the Tor Bay Marine Conservation Zone), analysing 450 quadrats on the seabed, identifying 90 species of plant and animal.  Dives in 2020 were impacted by the pandemic and it is hoped the next dive to assess and inspect the health of the Tor Bay seagrass meadows will take place in the Spring 2021.

The main Seagrass meadows in Tor Bay are located in: Fishcombe/Churston Cove; Elberry cove/Broadsands; Torre Abbey, Millstones/Beacon cove, Hope Cove and an area off breakwater beach. A map of the seagrass sites in Tor Bay can be seen here.

For more information on the #SaveOurSeagrass project visit click here.

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