Wandering the beach near my home in Penzance, I found myself perusing the organic wreckage strewn across the sand after a storm. Mingled amongst the debri of Sea Spaghetti (Himanthalia elongata) and its own roots I found Sea Grass. Looking a little like washed up wild leeks, or green strands of sea weed, this plant is rather unique and important.
What is Sea Grass?
I first read the words 'Sea Grass' in relation Gutweed, Ulva intestinalis seaweed, it was a term used to describe this long, thin, green seaweed. Who wouldn't re-name Gutweed, lets face it, Sea Grass is a much nicer, but a misleading name. Sea Grass is not a seaweed, nor is it gutweed. Sea Grass is Sea Grass; an actual plant that, unusually and unlike seaweed, roots itself under the sea, forming meadows, almost like underwater fields. I've kayaked over it on the Helford and swum over it on the Isles of Scilly and it is beautiful to see.
I love beauty. I also love function and Sea Grass also has a really important function.
Needless to say I was both pleased and saddened to see it washed up, in abundance on my local beach. Pleased, because it meant that it was, or had been, alive and growing nearby. Sad, because now it was detached from its rooted home and lying dead.
What's the importance of Sea Grass?
There are over 60 species of Sea Grass (Posidoniaceae, Zosteraceae, Hydrocharitaceae and Cymodoceaceae) worldwide and they provide essential ecosystems for wildlife, produce oxygen and help dissipate waves. Though to me, the most important and stunning function of Sea Grass is that it stores up to 10% of the world's carbon. Seaweeds also help to store carbon. Annually, Sea Grass is considered to lock up 24.7 million tons of carbon. Though some Sea Grasses are at risk, and expected to become extinct.
In times gone by, Sea Grass has been used to stuff mattresses and even used as bandages or fertiliser. Though these days, I think that storing carbon is the most valuable thing it can do for us and the planet. Sea Grass beds (areas where they grow) need protecting, as over 12,000 square miles of Sea Grass have been lost over the last few decades. Activities that contribute to its decline include; over fishing and mechanical disturbance such as motorboat blades disturbing it when moving over shallow water.
How can we help protect Sea Grass?
Sea Grass provides an amazing bed for biodiversity and is currently disappearing at a rate of 2 football fields an hour. There are several ways we can protect Sea Grass (boat propellers are mentioned above, and awareness of where Sea Grass beds are and tides in relation to this, so not to disturb it at low tide). Other ways include reducing fertilisers and pollution which end up running off into the Sea Grass beds blocking the sun that is needed for the Sea Grass to photosynthesis and reproduce. As well as reducing over C02 consumption, as Sea Grass is also affected by rising sea temperatures, which is linked to climate change. Supporting small scale fishing rather than over fishing, and reducing trawling fishing and bad practice. Finally, sharing the word on the importance of Sea Grass to us and the rest of the ecosystem and wildlife.
Learn about seaweeds and how to protect them
As well as the information above (which also benefits seaweeds), on my seaweed foraging courses I show participants how to harvest seaweeds by hand, for personal use, in a sustainable way. It's one way we can take care of the seaweeds that are taking care of us. I run seaweed foraging courses most months, and you can view courses here on the course calendar.
Karen Pirie, a Cornwall based podcaster recently joined me on a seaweed foraging course to record a podcast for her new venture; Cornwall Woman.
I've known Karen for a few years and find her easy company. She travelled with me to meet our group of keen and potential seaweed foragers on the south coast of Cornwall. On the way we chatted about life, using time well, foraging, nature and love - all the important things of life for sure!
Here's the podcast, which includes snippets about Laver/Lava seaweed (Porphyra species), Dulse (Palmaria palmata) and even Kelp (Laminaria digitata), oh and Karen's favourite Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida).
The day was blowy and together with the group we found sheltered crops of rocks where we hid from the elements and talked about and tasted our freshly foraged seaweeds. Later on we found warm rocks to lean against, which were even further out of the wind, and here we enjoyed Spiced Seaweed Broth and Seaweed bread. The recipe for the broth (image below) is here; Seaweed Soup with an Inner Kick and the recipe for the Sea Lettuce Seaweed Bread is here in my Seaweed Foraging Book.
After the course, Karen and I slipped away to check out another beach I really wanted to see at low tide. Here, we got to chat some more about the course that had just happened and the role that foraging can play in helping us prioritise what feels good and how it can help re-balance our lives. Thank you Karen, and all the best with Cornwall Woman, which is all about cool Cornish women and their love-affair with Cornwall.
Hearty Seaweed Broth (awards for taste but not for looks!), fit for a windy Cornish beach when something hot and nourishing is needed. This is just before I ladle it into a food flask and whisk it off to our beach where we'll spend 3 hours learning about its ingredients and much more. If you'd like to try the recipe, here it is again; Three Seaweed Soup with an Inner Kick.