Roving Reporter Emilie interviewed Healthy Herb the young Seagrass Plant from its underwater Meadow in the Helford Estuary, Cornwall.
I’m an individual Seagrass Plant, nearly three years old. My official name is Zostera Marina, but I’m also known as eelgrass because of how I wave around in the water. My friends call me Herb.
My life as a clone
Basically, I’m a clone. I was reproduced from another plant within our meadow. My brothers and sisters are identical to me. We all connect to each other through our rhizome roots. We love to hang out here and wave to each other. Through this special rhizosphere, I can live for a long time. Our meadow is older than I can remember.
A Battle for Light
My home is a special area of conservation where we receive protection from human impacts. It stretches between the two beaches within the Helford estuary which is well known in Cornwall for rare and interesting wildlife.
I live close to the shore below the waterline. So I'm constantly submerged. I don't like to be exposed to the air ‘cause it’s not good for my health. The water here is amazingly clear, truly beautiful. I’m lucky to be where I am. For the most part, it’s perfect low nutrient water conditions for a little seagrass like me to live in. Many seagrass meadows are in a battle for light. This is made a lot worse when there’s agricultural runoff containing fertilisers that add additional nutrients to the water. When there’s high nutrient levels, algae outcompetes with us seagrass and interrupts our ability to access light.
The good news is we have a symbiotic relationship with crustaceans and snails, which munch on the algae. This helps us get back that juicy light which makes us grow big and strong.
Healthy Herb the Seagrass Plant speaks
My friends and I provide a sheltered nursery habitat for lots of creatures. Baby fish feel safe hiding within our blades of grass. Curious little cuttlefish with their tentacles and multi-coloured skin come to visit, as do spider crabs and corkwing wrasse. Sometimes I’ll look over to one of my eelgrass friends and it turns out to be a pipefish. My seagrass ancestors tell me they used to see seahorses around here. I still hope I’ll see them in my lifetime.
Right now it's the middle of winter. So I'm in a kind of hibernation phase, a time of seasonal survival. During the summer I put on new growth and flourish. I can’t wait for spring, for the days to grow longer, and for more light to come to me.
My own special light show
There's a special time of year that only happens when conditions are just right. Suddenly, little plankton start swarming and flourishing around our seagrass meadow. At the right time of day, once the sun's gone down, if you look closely in water, you'll see these flashes of bright bioluminescent colours darting around. Our whole meadow is transformed into an iridescent blue glow.
Guardians of the climate
I am a humble protector with many different talents, which have been under-appreciated. My unique ability is to trap large amounts of carbon-rich organic matter in my sediments that acts as a carbon store, helping to protect the climate. To be the best at my job I need to be tall and healthy. Because when our meadow is dense it slows down water movement significantly. This can help reduce coastal erosion caused by climate change-driven storms.
But when I’m damaged through pollution I’m not able to do my job as effectively. Thankfully, it seems humans are finally starting to realise the important role we have and are giving us a helping hand. Just recently some were here snorkelling, collecting our seeds for planting more seagrass meadows.
We love this collaboration ‘cause we need all the help we can get!
Herb was interpreted by
Owen Maddocks, a conservation biologist who had his first ever swim in the waters of Bali, aged 6 months, en route with his parents to live in Tasmania as part of a house swap. For his master’s research Owen examined how pollution levels are affecting seagrass and their meadows, and negatively impacting the biodiversity within protected areas. He admits, “I love being in the sea and have spent a lot of time snorkelling over seagrass, just for fun, exploring the connections of different species within these amazing ecosystems.”
Owen says to Herb
You’re doing a fantastic job connecting and protecting marine ecosystems for life to continue to grow. Thank you.
Owen was invited by his former roommate Tim Cross. He says, “Tim taught me a lot about identifying plants. We both learnt so much from each other in terms of the natural world.”
Cover Photo edited. Original by Benjamin L. Jones.