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Storing carbon at the bottom of the sea

In beautiful sunshine, the day after COP26 ended, I ventured into the crystal-clear briny of the Harbour without a wet suit. It wasn’t exactly warm, but the water temperature was 14.1°C which, as far as I have been able to discover, is pretty near the maximum recorded temperature for Salcombe and Kingsbridge in the middle of November.

In these troubled times, it is very welcome to have some good news to end the year. First, as the result of fine summer weather combined with more staycations, the Harbour finds itself with a very respectable surplus. This is exceptionally valuable because of the expenditure on the new workshop being built at Batson, as well as the looming £250k cost of a new mooring barge.

The second bit of good news is deep down at the bottom of the Harbour. When I have written about seagrass before, it has been largely in the context of it creating a sheltered underwater nature reserve for many kinds of small creatures, including sea horses. Whilst some harbours are pleased to have seagrass perhaps 20cms tall in what is termed a meadow, in Salcombe it can exceed a metre and forms a veritable forest.

The new interest in seagrass is because it has been found to be excellent in capturing carbon. It is capable of storing about half a tonne of carbon per hectare a year, 35 times faster than a rain forest. This has been termed “blue” carbon and has become a major area for research, against a background of the loss of about 90% of seagrass in the UK as the result of algae pollution and the building of docks and marinas. As a result there is a real drive to find ways of regenerating seagrass where it has become depleted. One method is to embed seagrass seeds in a rope that is then laid along the fundus.

It has recently been discovered that Salcombe is blessed not only with one kind of seagrass, but two. The upper reaches of the Harbour have been found to have small clumps of dwarf seagrass scattered across the inter-tidal mudflats. Experiments are now going on to transplant some of these small clumps into parts of the Harbour where dwarf seagrass was known (or thought) to have grown some years ago. At the moment, things look to be going well, so Salcombe might end up with both a forest and a meadow.

Finally, the Kingsbridge Silver Band has four outside Christmas music and carol gigs this year. It is the band’s centenary and these events celebrate in part an astonishing 100 years of continuous playing.

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