Glimmers of hope for Sussex kelp recovery

May 21, 2024


On International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May 2024), the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project (SKRP), has published a Progress and Impact report to celebrate three years of seabed protection in Sussex and a partnership that has galvanised a community, to support and study the recovery of kelp beds, marine life and all the benefits that brings for nature, fisheries and coastal communities.  

As a SKRP partner, Blue Marine actively supports and leads research and projects to monitor the recovery of a vast area of seabed where once dense kelp beds provided habitat for a thriving ecosystem.   

Extensive kelp beds once stretched along more than 40km of the Sussex coastline between Shoreham-by-Sea and Selsey Bill. Tragically, by the start of the 21st Century, over 96 percent of this kelp had disappeared. Despite having survived huge storms for centuries, the kelp didn’t return after the storm of 1987, due to increased trawling effort and sedimentation. 

Three years ago, in March 2021, a landmark fisheries management byelaw, the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) Nearshore Trawling Byelaw excluded trawling from over 300km2 of Sussex seabed, to protect essential marine habitats and support sustainable inshore fisheries. 

Signs of recovery are slowly but clearly emerging. Mussel beds, some the size of football pitches have been reported by divers; fishermen have reported increased diversity of fish species in their catches and research indicates increases in Black Sea Bream and lobster populations.  A new short film, Glimmers of Hope captures the beauty, diversity and abundance of life that is starting to return to Sussex waters. 

The theme of this year’s United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity is “Be part of the Plan”. This is a call to action to encourage governments, local communities, non-governmental organizations, lawmakers, businesses, and individuals to highlight the ways in which they are supporting the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework also known as the Biodiversity Plan.  

Sam Fanshawe, Senior UK Projects Manager at Blue Marine Foundation said: “From the introduction of a landmark Byelaw led by Sussex IFCA which created one of the largest areas protected from trawling on the south coast, to the pioneering research and surveys, and the communities and people that are passionate about restoring our seas, the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project report summarises the journey of Sussex kelp recovery so far and how a collective effort is literally putting kelp back on the map to help reverse the biodiversity and climate crises.” 

This message of hope is gleaned from information shared by the Sussex diving community, by local fishers and is also starting to be reflected by a comprehensive programme of scientific research, undertaken by the project partners to benchmark and monitor change. Novel techniques such as underwater camera, stable isotope and environmental DNA surveys are building a bank of data which provides a window beneath the waves to track the changes in our local marine ecosystem since protection. 

George Short, Sussex Wildlife Trust Kelp Recovery Co-ordinator said “Removing the impact of trawling is expected to have a profound effect on the ability of the kelp habitats and ecosystems to recover to their former healthy state.  The Sussex Kelp Recovery Project is leading a collective journey, bringing together a wide network of people and organisations, all with a common vision for nature recovery on a pioneering scale.” 

More information on the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project Progress and Impact Report 2023 can be found at: Rewilding the Sussex seabed | Sussex Kelp Recovery Project 

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