Looe Bay Super Seagrass

New research has revealed that seagrass beds in Looe Bay are up to ten times larger than those in Plymouth, Falmouth and Torbay, making them one of the largest such habitats in the whole of Devon and Cornwall. This comes as an important finding for the Looe Marine Conservation Group (Looe MCG), to effectively monitor and protect the beds for now and into the future.

Seagrass habitats are found across the UK and play and essential role in fighting the increased atmospheric carbon emissions. Looe’s large seagrass bed performs an important role within the fight against climate change, as such the habitat requires continual monitoring to understand changes in the beds size and health.

Work resulting from a partnership between the Looe MCG, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and the University of Plymouth has revealed that the seagrass beds of Looe Bay cover approximately 1.1km2 of seabed, an area equivalent to 157 football pitches.

The beds stretch from Hannafore in the West to Millendreath in the East, and offer shelter to a diverse range of ecologically important marine animals and plants.

These include cuttlefish and stalked jellyfish, the latter being one of the reasons why a 52km2 Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) was designated in 2013.

The MCZ designation also requires that the seagrass beds are maintained in ‘favourable condition’, enabling them to function as an essential nursery ground for commercial fish species and helping to store carbon, a vital component in tackling the climate crisis.

Seagrass

Seagrass by Paul Kay

Rebekah Noakes led the work as part of a Masters course in Marine Conservation at the University of Plymouth. She said:

“I am extremely proud of what I have been a part of in Looe. This new information is critical for informing planning and future coastal development in the area. Seagrass beds are a vital habitat across the globe, accounting for 10% of global carbon absorption. Being able to play a role in their effective protection, management and continued monitoring feels like a momentous achievement.”

The project has combined historic and new data in the form of underwater video footage to build a habitat map of Looe’s seagrass beds. However, despite more than 20 years of surveying, the Looe seagrass beds have not been mapped to completion with a gap in data between the East and West Looe sites. In the future, LMCG Chairperson Amelia Bridges and Rebekah, who is continuing to volunteer with the group, are keen to fill this data gap between by running more surveys in 2021.

They are hopeful that the seagrass beds extend around the coast, making this one of the largest seagrass beds in the country, and therefore an area of conservation importance. To establish weather this is the case, Cornwall Wildlife Trust is supporting the project by purchasing specialist underwater camera equipment to help the team map the beds further.

Amelia Bridges, Chair of the Looe Marine Conservation Group and a PhD student at the University of Plymouth, says:

‘I am absolutely thrilled that the Looe Marine Conservation Group has had the opportunity to be involved in such a fantastic and important project. Seagrass beds are crucial for the development of young commercial and non-commercial fish species and can often harbour vulnerable species such as seahorses. Using the new camera equipment, we aim to develop a scientifically robust monitoring programme of the seagrass beds in the Looe Bay. This data will shed light on the health of the seagrass beds and allow us to develop local strategies to help safeguard this habitat.’

To find out more about the Looe Marine Conservation Group and their work, please visit www.looemarineconservation.org.uk.