When you hear the word “meadow”, where does your imagination take you?  Summer days with a cooling breeze?  Wide open spaces filled with long, waving grasses?  Greens & yellows dappled with bright, vibrant wild flowers?  Peaceful, never-ending blue skies and the sounds of nature?

What about the sea? 

Or, more specifically, under the sea?  Did your mind take you there?

Many people aren’t aware that some of our most amazing UK meadows are actually under the sea and we have stunning ones here in Scilly.  Guess what else?  All of the descriptions above are, maybe surprisingly, relevant to them too! 

We’re talking about Seagrass meadows and we want to raise their profile and show you just how special they are.

Seagrasses are different to Seaweeds; they are the only flowering plants able to live in seawater and pollinate whilst submerged.  Aptly nicknamed “the lungs of the sea”, Seagrasses grow in shallow, sheltered marine environments and Scilly is home to one of the largest unbroken expanses of Eelgrass | Zostera marina (a species of Seagrass) in England and Wales.

This year, here at the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, we want to raise awareness of, and learn more about, our underwater meadows and we’re doing this with the support of our awesome Ambassadors Helen Glover and Steve Backshall (you might have heard of them!); and not only that we want you to help too!

Seagrasses produce oxygen, clean our coastal waters, absorb greenhouse emissions, are home to 1000’s of animal species, support the livelihoods of millions of people globally and help slow down and prevent coastal erosion, amongst many other things.  They are amazing but don’t just take our word for it, here’s what Steve has to say about them…

“Seagrasses are the most criminally underrated habitat in the UK, a wonderland that even the most ardent of British naturalists and aquanauts rarely visit. These aquatic meadows of true flowering grasses have none of the cachet of coral, kudos of kelp forests or childhood nostalgia of the rockpool. Yet as a diver and naturalist, I can honestly say some of my unexpected and awe-inspiring marine dreams have happened within the hypnotic waving stems of a seagrass field.” 

Cool eh? 

Seagrass meadows, globally, are in decline.  Since 1980, over 35% of the world’s Seagrass meadows have been lost; equating to about 1.5% per year, or two football fields each hour.  A rate of loss equal to that of Coral Reefs and Rainforest, yet not as well publicised or known about (Project Seagrass).

Although Scilly’s Seagrass has been the subject of research and scrutiny for many years, we don’t necessarily have a full picture of its location or status, and with your help we might be able to change that! 

Still not convinced?  Let us hand you back to Steve to explain a bit more…

“Here in the UK, Tasselweeds and Eelgrass are one of the most important nurseries for baby marine creatures, and home to weird and wonderful wildlife so exotic as to seem impossible. To watch a cuttlefish flickering a staccato light display across its skin, before, turning black, then white then dashing for cover and literally becoming its background… to watch a flounder evading the attentions of a baby shark (doo doo doo doo doo doo) a pipefish scuttling away from a milky eyed cormorant… to watch a queen scallop clapping its shells like a Flamenco castanet to swim to safety… these are some of our most bewitching undersea sights. However, what every diver or snorkeller who heads to the seagrass really wants to see is a seahorse. 

The seahorse is a quirk of biology, and one of the most enigmatic and charismatic of all beasts. The two species we have in our seas (around the UK) are intricately carved, sensual in their movements, precious as any gem and as fragile as the seagrass beds they call home.  But do we have them in Scilly?” 

During your explorations of our Islands why not get involved with a bit of Citizen Science by helping us map our Seagrass, whilst also keeping your eyes peeled for the multitude of creatures that call these meadows home? 

You can do this by downloading the Seagrass Spotter App, identifying the species that you have come across and logging your finds with the Seagrass sightings tracker (this can all be done within the App).  It’s really that simple!

You’ll not only be helping to map the locations of our Seagrass, but you’ll also be contributing to science and future conservation work across our Islands; helping us to keep Scilly special!

We all know that Scilly’s natural environment is hugely special for a wide range of reasons; but the natural environment is also highly fragile, and not as healthy as it might seem.  It’s being destroyed at an historically unprecedented rate, with 41% of species having declined in the UK since 1970 (State of Nature Report 2019). 

We want to ensure that nature in Scilly has the best possible chance of defying global trends and the first steps in doing that are to raise awareness, increase knowledge and recognise the value of our precious natural world.  

In the not-too-distant future we are hoping to create more opportunities for you to get involved whilst in Scilly; hopefully “swimming” alongside Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust Ambassadors Helen and Steve!

“As Ambassadors to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, my wife Helen and I hope to lead snorkellers into the Seagrass beds of Scilly for the first time. We’ll be hoping to find many of the wonders that call this environment home, hoping to educate about the value and vulnerability of Seagrass. Our endgame would be to get the precious Seagrass beds of Scilly protected, for everyone’s future.” 

So, get involved!  Keep your eyes peeled; follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (@ScillyWildlife) to stay up to date with our work and progress or become a Friend of Scilly Wildlife to receive monthly updates straight to your email inbox!

Funfact #1:  Seagrass meadows account for more than 10% of the ocean’s global carbon storage, whilst only covering around 0.1% of the ocean floor

Funfact #2:  Seagrass can capture carbon up to 35x faster than Amazonian rainforest!

Funfact #3:  There are four species of Seagrass in the UK; two species of Tasselweeds and two Zostera species, commonly known as Eelgrass.

Funfact #4:  Seagrasses can form dense under meadows, some of which are large enough to be seen from space!

Help Protect Scilly's Seagrass

This article was originally written for Isles of Scilly Travel's S Magazine Issue 7 packed with tips and suggestions to try whilst in Scilly, including Take Away Dining and Picnic Spots, Essential Island Tips, perfect day trip suggestions and more. 

Images from top to bottom:  Tean © Aerial Cornwall | Eelgrass Bed © Paul Naylor | Helen Glover & Steve Backshall © Steve Backshall | Captive Spiny seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus), attached to plastic seagrass © Alexander Mustard-2020VISION | Seagrass Spotter App Screenshot | Sea Hare - Aplysia punctata - © BareFoot Photographer