By Sarah Ward
Living Seas Officer
Kelps are a type of brown seaweed, usually quite large and known for their ability to grow in dense aggregations, forming what is known as a ‘kelp forest’.
Along our Sussex coastline, kelp was once quite prolific, particularly along the stretch between Selsey Bill and Shoreham-by-Sea. Accounts from divers and fishers suggest that there was a dense area of kelp along the coast which over time has diminished – most likely due to disturbance by storms and the increased pressure from mechanised fishing techniques. The kelp beds were known to exist up to the 1970s and 80s, when they started to disappear; the Great Storm of 1987 would most likely have played a big role in this.
Kelp provides a number of important ecosystem services, including providing a habitat for other wildlife and a natural sea defence for the coast; it also sequesters carbon out of the atmosphere (arguably more efficiently than terrestrial forests can!). These services are indeed important in their own right, but can also be valued in terms of their natural capital, which is a way of taking stock of the resources in the natural environment which provide benefits to people.
The loss of this extent of kelp over time means these benefits and services have been diminished. Sussex has a proud tradition of restoring rivers and rewilding natural areas; the time is right to consider moving that approach into the marine environment.
The Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) are currently looking to manage fishing activities along the coastline, in order to relieve part of the pressure preventing kelp from establishing. This management is part of on-going research into restoring the habitat, for which Sussex Wildlife Trust has been contributing through directing the efforts of our Seasearch volunteers to areas of interest.
The Sussex IFCA are currently running a consultation on their proposed management of trawling in the near-shore. This is a public consultation and we would urge you to take a look and consider submitting a response. Further information about the proposed management and how to submit a response can be found by clicking here.