Updated: Sep 22
The Sussex Kelp Recovery Project, a coalition of seven local and national organisations, celebrates its second anniversary on the UN International Day of Forests. This project has been championed by local communities, academics, NGOs, and statutory bodies all working towards the recovery of Sussex’s kelp forest. This blog discusses the project and the positive impact of trawling restrictions on marine biodiversity.
The History of Kelp Forest in Sussex
Along the coastline from Shoreham-by-Sea to Selsey Bill in Sussex, there was once an expansive kelp forest that spanned over 40km. Regrettably, at the beginning of the 21st Century, almost all of the kelp bed vanished, with only a handful of small patches remaining. Despite enduring severe storms for centuries, the kelp failed to revive after the tempest in 1987, which occurred after years of trawling and other human activities had devastated the seabed that the kelp relies on to flourish.
Kelp is a type of large, brown seaweed that grows in underwater forests along coastlines and in shallow, nutrient-rich waters. Kelp can grow up to 30 meters long and forms dense canopies that provide shelter and food for a variety of marine life, including fish, invertebrates, and sea mammals. Kelp is also an important producer of oxygen and can absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it an important player in the fight against climate change. Kelp is often referred to as the "rainforest of the sea" because of its biodiversity and importance in the marine ecosystem.
The Impact of Trawling Restrictions
The Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) implemented the Nearshore Trawling Bylaw two years ago, which banned the practice of dragging trawls across the seafloor. This bylaw has designated 304 square kilometres of the Sussex seabed as a trawling-free zone, safeguarding crucial fish and marine habitats and promoting the sustainability of inshore fisheries.
The positive impact of trawling restrictions on marine biodiversity is being seen in Sussex. Local divers are observing vast mussel beds binding the seabed together, and kelp is holding its own. Soft and hard corals and anemones are returning, and the inshore rock pools are teeming with life. Fishermen have seen electric rays and trigger fish, unseen in the area for decades, and lobsters are coming back to their old haunts in numbers.
Scientific Research and Recovery Efforts
Universities, NGOs, and fishermen are coming together, employing multiple techniques to assess changes in abundance and diversity of species, while local communities work together to understand if there is more that can be done to support the recovering kelp. Recovery efforts such as this are vital in the current biodiversity crisis and time of climatic change.
Henri Brocklebank of Sussex Wildlife Trust, who chairs the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project said: “The past two years have been a rollercoaster bringing together a sophisticated program to monitor kelp recovery, and ensuring that the recovery of the Sussex kelp is a shared ambition of many individuals and organisations. This is a story that needs to be told by many different voices, as the passion for its success runs deep here in Sussex. The excitement for kelp recovery has been unprecedented, and we will continue to work together...”
The Sussex Kelp Recovery Project is more than just an effort to restore the underwater kelp forests. It is a story of hope and resilience, a testament to the power of human collaboration and dedication to protecting our planet's precious ecosystems. In a world where so many ecosystems are under threat, the success of this project is a reminder that positive change is possible, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
In the waters just off the coast of Sussex, we are witnessing a powerful example of the ocean's ability to recover when it is protected from destructive human activity. The restoration of the kelp forests is a beacon of hope, inspiring us to continue our efforts to protect and preserve our planet's delicate ecosystems for generations to come.