Seawilding: Restoring Habitats and Nurturing the Next Generation of Marine Biologists

Students participate in Seawilding's 2023 summer internship program

Native oysters and seagrass are keystone species—the glue that holds a habitat together. They enable other species to survive, occupying a vital role in their marine environment. Without keystone species, an ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. Oysters play a vital role in their environment, filtering and cleaning the water and forming complex 3D reefs that become spawning and nursery grounds for fish. Once common in many sea lochs, they are now very rare due to human predation and pollution. Seagrass faces a similar problem—it is a vital inshore habitat for multiple marine species; however, 95% of seagrass meadows have disappeared from U.K. coastal waters.

Thankfully, Seawilding plans to change that.

Seawilding is a charity located in western Scotland on the shores of Loch Craignish. With a core team and dozens of local volunteers, they are pioneering the U.K.’s first community-led seagrass and native oyster restoration projects with the aim of restoring lost biodiversity, sequestering carbon, and creating green jobs. They share their learnings with other coastal communities, empowering them to make a positive impact to their inshore waters.

Seawilding’s plan is to introduce one million native oysters to Loch Craignish where they were once abundant and 100,000 every year further in Loch Broom. So far they have released over 350,000 to the seabed. Seawilding is also working to enhance the existing Loch Craignish seagrass meadows and in the last two years have planted about 1.85 acres of seagrass. Researching the best methodologies for restoring seagrass is key and their pioneering work is of vital importance to the science of understanding how best to re-establish this wonder plant.

Partnership with CAF America

Thanks to support from CAF America’s donors, Seawilding welcomed three interns to their restoration team for the first time in August 2023. The objective was to impart valuable skills and knowledge to young people who will use their future careers to promote and enable practical marine conservation. During their time with Seawilding, the interns learned the fundamentals of native oyster and seagrass restoration on a practical, operational, and administrative level. They helped with outreach activities and provided much needed support to the team with their daily activities during their busiest month. This was incredibly beneficial to Seawilding as the interns:

  • Increased their capacity to clean oyster cages at a crucial time of year where speed and efficiency is most important. Seawilding increased cages cleaned per day by 150% compared to the previous year.
  • Enabled Seawilding to increase their ability to harvest seagrass seed by 30%, which meant that seagrass seed collection targets were reached in good time.
  • Freed up the core team to deliver additional activities during outreach programs, which increased Seawilding’s public engagement threefold during that time.
  • Doubled Seawilding’s capacity over the month of August to do underwater survey work.

In return, the interns gained valuable experience and numerous skills in how to run a seagrass and native oyster restoration project, including managing an oyster and seagrass nurseries, harvesting and processing seagrass seed, conducting bird surveys, and collecting water samples to test for nutrients in collaboration with SAMS (Scottish Association for Marine Science). They also conducted underwater surveying and learned how to map seagrass beds using GPS. These projects allow interns to sharpen their skills in data collection, biodiversity monitoring, literature reviews, and public engagement and outreach activities with volunteers, press, and members of the public.

The internship program has been a fantastic experience both for Seawilding and the interns, reaping multiple benefits on both sides. Our partnership with Seawilding on this program has made a real difference in fostering a sustainable ecosystem and educating the next generation in responsible stewardship of the land. Supporting programs like this is just one of the many ways that CAF America and its donors are making a difference.

Discover the great work done by organizations we support by viewing our other Stories of Impact. Learn more about Seawilding’s work here.

Hear more about this amazing program from last year’s interns:

Lorna Farquhar (BSc Marine Biology and Oceanography, University of Liverpool)

“I feel a huge debt of gratitude towards the team at Seawilding. As a recent graduate I have learned that navigating the world of work can be very daunting, but thanks to their supportive attitude and positive culture the Seawilding team has made the whole experience far less stressful. The hands-on, practical skills I have gained are invaluable to the beginning of my scientific career. In addition, community outreach and engagement has shown me the power of science communication and the effect it can have on creating change. The support from their wonderful funders has allowed Seawilding to develop an exceptional intern program. The equipment and responsibility we were provided with was incredibly helpful in supporting not only our five weeks with Seawilding but also the beginning of our careers. We spent valuable time with every member of the team learning about their roles and responsibilities: everyone had an array of knowledge to share. Importantly, Seawilding has an ethos of ‘nothing is impossible’, an attitude of which our planet is in dire need, and they consistently lived that throughout my internship. Their creativity left no stone unturned when it came to problem solving and their door was quite literally always open to locals or tourists wanting to learn about our wonderful environment. Everyone here is highly knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated to ensuring that the ecosystem is starting to thrive again thanks to their efforts. I constantly felt respected and part of the team throughout my internship. It was great to be involved with meaningful discussions about future implications and understand the importance of the work we were doing. It really feels like you are part of a family when you spend time at Seawilding. The past five weeks has fuelled my drive to make impactful change and has enriched my knowledge and skillset. I will be forever grateful to the people protecting this little patch of heaven.”

Sophie Coxon (BSc Ecological & Environmental Sciences, University of Edinburgh)

“I was introduced to the native marine systems of this coastline through my internship work with Seawilding, and had one of the most fulfilling, enriching and fun months of my life. The Seawilding team are a wonderful mix of people, who really included us in their work, ethos, and mission to rewild Loch Craignish to its former natural haven of abundant oyster reefs and dense seagrass meadows. We built oyster cages, watched ospreys soaring above from boats, completed snorkel certifications, poured over books about native species ecology, and laughed more than I ever have before. The community embraced us wholly and we felt at home immediately, enjoying (almost daily) coffees at the local café, taking part in the village wheelbarrow race, and talking to people about the local marine life and why it is important to them. The ecosystems of the loch are deeply intertwined into the locals’ lives, and we were lucky to meet so many people with so many interesting stories.

The Seawilding team also collaborated with me in my own research project, helping assist with kit set up and deployment of baited remote underwater video surveys for my final year dissertation. This was really useful, as we covered the basic methodology in depth and I could practice before going out and collecting my own data.

I learned so much during my time with Seawilding, and feel confident and equipped to undertake my own marine research further afield with the skills I picked up here. Being in the sea everyday was a dream, and there is no better feeling than salt in your hair and a flask of hot tea after a day underwater.”

Tom Richardson (BSc Environmental Science, University of Edinburgh)

“We helped at the ‘Wild Seas weekend’ which was amazing to see how involved the community is, and the variety of different tasks made every day exciting. At university I’m studying ecological and environmental sciences and am always learning about pressing issues the environment faces. It is easy to become overwhelmed and paralyzed into thinking it is too late, but it was incredibly refreshing to be a part of something making a meaningful change and being surrounded with likeminded people with a common passion. It was a fantastic opportunity and the team at Seawilding made the internship both educational and fun which is rare to find. The team at Seawilding were also incredibly supportive of my university dissertation, which is directly related to seagrass in Loch Craignish, their support made clear just how passionate they are about what they do. I am proud to be one of a growing number of community members getting involved and looking forward to helping in any way I can in the future.”

About the Author

  • Margot Cunningham

    Margot Cunningham serves as CAF America’s Officer of Marketing and Communications. Her responsibilities include planning, creating, and implementing marketing and communications strategies, with a focus on building awareness of our mission and engaging prospects and donors with long-form content and event opportunities.

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