A pioneering marine rewilding project, The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project, has launched to restore almost 200 square kilometres of lost kelp forest along the coast of Sussex.
This ambitious project has inspired the involvement of thousands of people and many organisations, based around the pioneering work of the local fisheries managers (Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority - IFCA) and championed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The recently confirmed Nearshore Trawling Byelaw means the nearshore seabed off the Sussex coast is now protected from bottom-towed trawling gears after successful campaigning from the Help Our Kelp partnership, supported by Sir David Attenborough.
Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project has been established to ensure the successful restoration of a crucial marine ecosystem along the Sussex Coast from Chichester to Rye. At the heart of the project are the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Sussex IFCA, Blue Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society, Big Wave Productions and the University of Portsmouth.
Kelp (a large seaweed) once grew in abundance along 40 kilometres of the West Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham-by-Sea, forming an underwater forest that extended at least four kilometres out to sea. However, within living memory, kelp in Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. Storm damage, trawling and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging activity have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat. The wildlife associated with it has all but disappeared and the vital ecosystem services it provided have been lost. The implementation of the Nearshore Trawling Byelaw has now alleviated the primary pressure from the area where kelp grows, giving it a chance to recover.
Kelp are large brown canopy forming seaweeds that form extensive aggregations called forests. These underwater forests are highly productive and diverse habitats that are crucial to supporting a healthy functioning ecosystem. The kelp draws down carbon into the developing ecosystem, increases biodiversity and provides an important nursery habitat for juvenile fish species. Enabling the kelp forest to regenerate at scale could also help alleviate coastal flood risk.
Coinciding with the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project will collect evidence to demonstrate the importance of restoring marine ecosystems including the economic and social benefits to fisheries and local communities. Sussex Wildlife Trust will be working with a local film-maker to inspire, engage and communicate the importance of the Sussex kelp. This will be broadcast at a special Sussex summit on kelp in November.
Research is underway to map and monitor the seabed and biodiversity alongside the natural regeneration of kelp. Using cutting edge science and technology the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project research is collecting environmental DNA for analysis to create a biodiversity baseline. An underwater drone will be used to explore this incredible underwater world and give the public the opportunity to watch as the seabed transforms over the years into a thriving restored ecosystem supporting productive fisheries and contributing to the local economy.
Other factors that may be limiting the kelp restoration will be investigated such as sedimentation, habitat favourability and climate change. The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project will also be studying the need for and feasibility of active restoration.
Sally Ashby, Sussex Kelp Lead said,
“The Sussex Kelp Restoration Project is an ambitious and hope-filled project that aims to heal the Sussex marine environment, build climate change resilience and restore healthy productive seas for future generations.”
Find out more about the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project