Building a comprehensive, detailed and integrated seabed monitoring and research programme
Historically, kelp and the English Channel have been overlooked by marine research. To address this, the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project are creating a comprehensive, detailed and integrated seabed monitoring and research programme.
This programme seeks to understand:
How kelp and other essential fish habitats in Sussex change, now the impacts of trawling have been removed?
What benefits do kelp and other essential fish habitats provide ecologically, socially and economically?
What other pressures could be hindering kelp’s recovery and how to mitigate these?
If kelp doesn’t recover, if and what interventions might be needed?
To answer these questions, the SKRP has designed and undertakes research activities that study changes and impacts on kelp and the Sussex seabed ecosystem as well as on socio-economic factors.
Why is detailed monitoring important?
Robust and scientific measures of change and recovery are essential - Even if kelp beds and other essential fish habitats thrive across the area, more than anecdotal evidence will be needed to demonstrate the benefit of both the project and the Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw to enable similar marine recovery elsewhere.
The SKRP’s working hypothesis is that the Byelaw will lead to an improvement in the abundance of many commercial fish species, but this needs to be rigorously and objectively tested.
Nature recovery takes time - Even when key pressures have been removed from an area, the recovery of complex ecosystems can take years and even decades. To assess this change, annual monitoring and long-term datasets are needed so that trends can confidently be reported.
By repeating surveys annually for a period of 5 years or more, the SKRP can record how and at what rate kelp ecosystems recover from the impacts of trawling. This monitoring will also assess the impacts of other factors such as storm events, sedimentation, pollution and climate change which could hinder recovery and undermine the benefits of the Byelaw. This in turn may steer the future activity of the SKRP partnership and that of other stakeholders in the area.
Other species may recover and spread first and this needs to be understood - In marine habitats, successional change is expected in a similar way to rewilding on land. The presence, absence and abundance of species is likely to change over time until a dynamic mature community is formed.
In Sussex, the extensive areas of Bootlace Weed (Chorda filum) that have been seen could be an early sign of recovery as it has previously been associated with Sugar Kelp habitat in the area.
The coming years are an exciting time for the SKRP as we learn how nature responds to the removal of a key pressure. What species and habitats will return? What will thrive and what won’t? How might the changes impact people as well as the seabed?