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Basket fisherman poses for a frame, Inlay Lake, Myanmar

The significance of our ocean

The ocean plays a vital role in our planet’s ability to function. It sustains the lives of billions of people, regulates our climate, produces half the oxygen we breathe, and fuels the water cycle that produces rain and freshwater. The marine world is also home to an extraordinary and treasured array of species.  

But after decades of overuse and pollution, our ocean is in crisis. Overfishing, plastic pollution and the climate crisis are threatening the health of the ocean and, in turn, the planet. Half of all coral reefs and mangroves are gone. Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, seabirds, and sea turtles are captured each year, along with tens of millions of sharks.  

Protecting our ocean is something we must do together. With your support, we're working to build a more resilient ocean by addressing what goes in and what comes out of it, and by protecting threatened ecosystems like coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove forests. 

Our Work

Coral Reef Rescue Initiative
Seeds of change
A local dives for trochus on Tetepare, Solomon Islands.

The significance of coral reefs

Coral reefs are a critical global ecosystem. They provide the nurseries for about a quarter of the ocean’s fish and support an abundance of marine life around the world.

This biodiversity provides food security, income, and a multitude of other benefits to people. For many coastal areas, coral reefs also provide an important barrier against the worst ravages of storms, hurricanes, and typhoons – making them essential for ocean health as well as the health and well-being of thousands of coastal communities.

While coral reefs have survived tens of thousands of years of natural change, many of them may not be able to survive the havoc wrought by humankind.

In the last 30 years, coral reefs have experienced a drastic global decline as a result of local issues including destructive fishing practices, overfishing, pollution, careless tourism and coral mining. Climate change is further impacting coral reefs, with warming ocean temperatures leading to increased levels of coral bleaching events.

If we don’t act now, the world’s coral reefs face extinction.

To date, an estimated 30-60 per cent of the world’s corals have disappeared. On current trajectories, scientists project that by 2050 only 10 per cent of our planet’s coral reefs will survive.

This rapid, large-scale biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history – but with your help we’re working to ensure coral reefs don’t disappear forever.

Rescuing the world’s coral reefs

Your support comes at a crucial time. The Coral Reef Rescue Initiative (CRRI) will drive the change we need to see to save coral reefs on a local and global scale.

But we can’t do this alone. The Initiative is being led by WWF, in partnership with leading coral reef conservation and development partners including Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Rare, CARE International, Blue Ventures, Vulcan Inc and the University of Queensland.

Scientific analysis shows that over 70% of the coral reefs with the best chance of surviving and replenishing other reefs in a warming ocean are found in just seven developing countries: Indonesia, Philippines, Cuba, Fiji, Tanzania, Solomon Islands, and Madagascar.

By 2023, our aim is to identify 5-7 of key coral reef sites across these 7 countries, and work with local communities, governments and other partners to deliver high-impact solutions that remove local threats to corals and ensure their survival.

With your support, we will mobilise local communities, the wider public, key political leaders and investors to safeguard coral reefs through on-the-ground action and major global policy interventions.

We will lead the largest coalition ever formed for coral reef communications and leverage our channels and partners to build awareness and understanding of the link between reefs and human well-being. Your support will help give our coastal seas the capacity to recover, if we can protect them in time.

To find out how you can support the Coral Reef Rescue Initiative and our ocean work, please email philanthropy@wwf.org.uk or call us at (+44) 01483 412424.

Spiny seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) female in a meadow of seagrass.

Why is seagrass so important?

Seagrass meadows living in shallow waters along our coastline are vital for biodiversity and marine life – harbouring 30 times more species than bare sediment. They are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, providing spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for endangered wildlife such as seahorses as well as 20% of the world’s biggest fisheries.  

Seagrasses are also an incredible tool in the fight against climate change. They provide coastal protection, erosion control, and account for more than 10% of total ocean carbon storage, rapidly storing organic carbon into sediments, where it remains ‘locked up’ for long time periods. Global analysis of these rates indicates that seagrass meadows can store carbon at rates over 30 times that of tropical rainforests. This means they could have an important role to play in helping the UK reaching our carbon emission targets. 

Yet seagrass meadows are one of the most rapidly declining ecosystems on Earth. Around 7% of their known area is lost globally each year, which in turn has a major biodiversity impact on our coastal ecosystems. Seagrass meadows were once common around the UK coast, but around 92% have been lost in the last century due to poor water quality, coastal development, boating impacts and aquaculture. 

The first major UK seagrass restoration project

With your help, we’re conducting the first major seagrass restoration project in the UK. Working in partnership with the University of Swansea and the NGO Project Seagrass, our aim is to re-establish seagrass meadows as thriving nurseries for juvenile fish and carbon stores in UK coastal waters, starting with an initial 2 hectares of new seagrass meadow at a pilot site in Dale in South Wales.

In 2019, we collected and prepared more than 750,000 seeds from seagrass donor sites. In early 2020, trained volunteer divers – including some from local communities – helped us plant these seeds at the Dale pilot site, ensuring regular monitoring and repeat planting sessions as needed for successful germination. We’re delighted to report that in a recent, first visit to the site since that planting in February we have seen successful germination of seeds.

We are now seeking funding for further, larger sites for subsequent seagrass restoration efforts, firstly with 10 hectares at sites on the north Wales coast, with further sites to follow in England and Scotland. Our long-term aim is to work with local partners to restore 2,500 hectares of seagrass meadow by 2030. Stakeholder engagement will be vital to this programme of restoration work – gaining support from local communities and inspiring a sense of ownership of the seagrass meadow.

Your support will allow us to restore vital seagrass meadows around the UK’s coastline; enhancing coastal biodiversity, increasing spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for our depleted fisheries, and re-establishing a huge source of carbon storage – all helping to play a key role in UK efforts to combat climate change.

Alec Taylor, Head of Marine Policy, WWF 

‘Seagrass restoration ticks so many boxes: climate, fisheries, water quality, biodiversity. But we will only get the benefits if we act now and at scale. We want the oceans to play a hero’s role in the fight against global heating’ 

To find out how you can support our seagrass restoration for the benefit of our one planet, please email philanthropy@wwf.org.uk or call us at (+44) 01483 412424. 

Seagrass FAQs

Why is WWF involved in this project?

Seagrass is vital to our oceans for biodiversity, oxygen production, the absorption of carbon, cleaner waters, and coastal protection – yet we are losing it fast. WWF is helping to restore this habitat by undertaking large-scale seagrass planting at suitable sites across the UK, where seagrass previously existed and where threats to seagrass growth have been removed. We are also helping put in place procedures to involve coastal communities and stakeholders in project design and implementation and create a sustainable seagrass restoration model that governments and stakeholders can roll out across the UK. This project provides an important nature-based solution to both the climate and biodiversity crises, showing that it is possible to restore seagrass on a large scale – and with it the health of our oceans.

What are the critical factors required to reach the 2030 ambition?

Seagrass could play a vital role in the fight against climate change. However, we will need to speed up the seagrass restoration process if we are to plant our target of 2,500 hectares of seagrass in UK waters by 2030. Currently, we rely on a large number of volunteers to help collect and process the seeds by hand, which is time-consuming and labour-intensive. While volunteering is a crucial element of community engagement, our aim is to mechanise the seed collecting, processing, and planting by developing tools that will speed up the restoration process and bring down the cost ten-fold to around £20,000 per hectare. These technologies will be critical in unlocking future large-scale investment from government and industry and ensuring seagrass is a solution to carbon capture.
Other factors to realise our ambition include the removal of licensing barriers for seagrass restoration. The UK Government must also provide leadership by coordinating and facilitating efforts to restore critical coastal habitats, and by providing funding support to scale up those efforts. 

How will impact be measured and what is the timeline?

We will measure the number of seeds and hectares planted; mature plants per hectare; local community members who are actively engaged; the reach of awareness events; and media pieces. We will also measure the change in government restoration policy through evidence of licensing streamlining and cost reduction; and in government agencies taking a more pro-active role in co-ordinating and enabling seagrass restoration (such as evidence of marine planning and available funding). Lastly, we will monitor water quality, biodiversity, and carbon capture over the long term to evaluate the benefits that seagrass restoration provides.

How important is carbon capture vs biodiversity for this project?

Seagrass is vital for biodiversity: 20% of the world’s 25 biggest fisheries are supported by seagrass nursery habitat and, in the UK, seagrass meadows support a wide range of species including two seahorse species, greater and lesser spotted dogfish, grey seal, octopus, and sand eel. Seagrass also has huge benefits for climate: seagrass can capture and store carbon at 35 times the rate of tropical rainforest and globally it accounts for 10-18% of total ocean carbon storage despite occupying less than 0.1% of ocean floor. It also helps climate adaptation, reducing coastal erosion and flooding by absorbing wave energy.

WWF presents seagrass restoration as a nature-based solution to both the urgent biodiversity and climate crisis, as well as a benefit to local coastal economies. In addition to supporting an increase in fish, crab, and shrimp numbers, which will benefit fisheries; seagrass also helps improve water quality by removing excess organic material and nitrogen, which will benefit water-based recreational activities and so improve local wellbeing and tourism livelihoods.

What’s the ongoing involvement of local communities and the project partners?

Success will depend on the programme reflecting the needs of local people, building public understanding of the importance and benefits of seagrass, and providing a platform to encourage debate and address any concerns about the future of the seagrass meadows. In Wales, we have held discussions with local boat users and fishermen to resolve issues, involving these important stakeholders in the design and implementation of the project. This work helps us engage communities and ocean users and build positive messages about this incredible plant and the important role of key coastal habitats like seagrass in providing the ecosystem services that humans rely on for their wellbeing. If environmental conditions remain favourable, then the seagrass we plant will look after itself and spread. We will set up local stakeholder groups to help manage the areas in which we restore seagrass, and Swansea University and Project Seagrass will continue to monitor the seagrass and its ecosystem service impacts over the long term in co-ordination with local partners.

How does this Seeds of Hope seagrass restoration project work alongside other nature-based solutions for carbon sequestration?

There is a growing public awareness of the enormous potential benefits to our health and economy of a thriving sea on people’s doorsteps. WWF’s Global Futures Report highlights that losing our coastal ecosystems could cost the UK economy at least £15bn each year by 2050 unless action is taken now. We are exploring how we can build on our seagrass restoration work and connect it with other coastal habitat restoration to help tackle the biodiversity and climate crises, whilst benefiting local livelihoods (such as fisheries). We are looking to collaborate with NGOs working on bivalve restoration – including oysters and mussels – and saltmarsh restoration to see if we can integrate the restoration of different coastal habitats. The project partners are members of the Environment Agency’s Restoring Meadows, Marshes and Reefs (REMEMARE) stakeholder group that has set targets for the restoration of critical coastal habitats in England and is building collaboration to enable targets to be met effectively.

How does this programme sit within the wider WWF marine work? Does it pave the way for other work in the UK or elsewhere? 

Seagrass restoration helps the WWF-UK marine team deliver our Ocean Recovery strategy by restoring our coastal ecosystems and working with coastal communities, and also by supporting our work to reduce carbon emissions. As the project partners will need to collaborate with other agencies to meet the ambitious 2030 target, the model we are developing for seagrass restoration will be shared with relevant government agencies and NGOs for use across the UK. It will also be shared across the WWF network and we have already had strong interest from the WWF Germany, Denmark, and Indonesia offices. The engagement approach we use to deliver seagrass restoration is applicable to a range of marine conservation delivery projects and will similarly be shared alongside the restoration approach. In addition, we are in conversation with other NGOs and government agencies about integrating seagrass restoration with other coastal habitat restoration plans to maximise ecosystem service benefits.