Historically, a vast kelp forest teeming with life stretched along the Sussex coast, providing a highly productive and biodiverse habitat for marine life.
Kelp forests once stretched 40 kilometres along the Sussex coastline, creating one of the most productive and biodiverse environments on the planet. Kelp forests provide shelter, feeding and nursery grounds for many marine species including cuttlefish, lobster, seabream and bass. Kelp also has the potential to store carbon, aiding in the fight against climate change, while improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves.
Since 1987 however, over 96 per cent of Sussex’s kelp had been destroyed due to years of destructive trawling and other human pressures.
To reverse this decline, the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority proposed a byelaw prohibiting trawling of over 300 square kilometres of seabed in 2019 with the aim for recovery of the lost kelp forest and protection of essential fish habitats and fish populations. Blue Marine worked with the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Marine Conservation Society and Big Wave Media as part of the Help our Kelp campaign to support the byelaw gaining overwhelming public support from almost 2,500 people.
In March 2021 the Nearshore Trawling Byelaw 2019 was approved creating one of the largest inshore areas closed to trawling in England and the first kelp restoration project in the UK. Sir David Attenborough lent his support in the early stages providing a voice over for the campaign film and welcomed the byelaw as a “landmark decision for the management of the UK’s coastal waters”.
Following introduction of the Byelaw, Blue Marine helped establish the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project – an ambitious collective of conservation and government organisations, scientists and communities. Together we are undertaking pioneering research to monitor the kelp’s return and the benefits it provides for people, nature and climate.
Just two years after the trawling ban, a story of hope is emerging with pockets of kelp and fish, not seen in years, reported across the area. The Sussex Kelp Recovery Project Progress and Impact Report 2021-2022 summarises the Sussex kelp recovery journey so far and how a collective effort is literally putting kelp back on the map.
Blue Marine supports an extensive research programme to monitor the impacts and benefits of excluding trawling for wildlife and inshore fisheries. Our research includes Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys to monitor mobile benthic species, studies of crab and lobster populations and socio-economic surveys with fishermen.
Despite the removal of trawling as an immediate barrier to kelp recovery, other factors persist. Sediment from land run-off and dredge spoil disposal is a major concern as high sediment levels reduce light needed to support kelp growth and smothers juvenile kelp as well as commercially important crustacean species. Blue Marine led the first Sussex Sediment Sources and Impacts Workshop in 2021 to gather evidence and catalyse action amongst a wide range of stakeholders. We are now compiling information and evidence to identify the key sources of sediment and actions needed to reduce inputs including a Sussex Sediment Sea Users Survey and commissioning a report on Sussex Sediment Sources and Pathways.
Blue Marine is engaging with local fishing communities along the Sussex coast to help low-impact fisheries thrive following the trawling exclusion. Local fishermen and councillors in Bognor have launched a fisheries renaissance to bring fishing back to the town – watch the start of their journey to bring Bognor Fishing Back from the Brink.
Watch the Help Our Kelp campaign film narrated by Sir David Attenborough here:
Image credits: Andy Jackson and Big Wave TV
Watch Sussex Kelp Recovery Project vision for nature recovery here:
96 per cent of Sussex Kelp has disappeared since 1987
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