Award-winning film helps to protect vital marine habitat

A University of Portsmouth marine ecologist contributed to an award-winning film to protect kelp forests on the South coast of England.

Dr Ian Hendy was part of the Help Our Kelp film that won the Public Awareness category at the recent annual Ocean Awards, which commends those who have made a significant contribution to protecting the oceans and marine life.

Featuring beautiful underwater footage and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the seven-minute film was seen by millions. It trended on BBC Online as well as multiple social media platforms; and is still available to watch on YouTube.

Help Our Kelp beat Steve Backshall’s shark series on Sky and the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, which exposed the environmental impact of commercial fishing.

Dr Ian Hendy said: “Global macroalgae, including kelp forests, draw down more than 600 million tonnes of carbon per year, roughly twice the amount the UK emits. A type of seaweed, kelp can aid the sequestration of carbon by stabilising sediment; it can oxygenate seawater, enabling marine life to thrive; and it can even “mitigate or reduce wave energy by up to 70 per cent.”

Global macroalgae, including kelp forests, draw down more than 600 million tonnes of carbon per year, roughly twice the amount the UK emits. A type of seaweed, kelp can aid the sequestration of carbon by stabilising sediment; it can oxygenate seawater, enabling marine life to thrive; and it can even “mitigate or reduce wave energy by up to 70 per cent.

The film was about kelp forests, which once stretched along 40 kilometres of the West Sussex coastline, providing vital habitat, nursery and feeding grounds for many marine species and locking up huge quantities of carbon. Since 1987 however, over 96 per cent of Sussex’s kelp had been destroyed due to years of destructive trawling and other human pressures.

Sarah Cunliffe, CEO and Founder of Big Wave Productions, created the film, which told the story of the depleted underwater forest. She said: “In 2019, I heard about the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority’s plans to propose a landmark ban on trawling, which tears the kelp from the seabed. The aim was to protect 304 square kilometres of seabed, in order to let the kelp recover and regenerate.

“We made the film to raise awareness on why these marine forests are so important. It led to the Help Our Kelp campaign, which we initiated, and the formation of a coalition of non-governmental organisations, now known as the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project.”

The film inspired thousands of people to write letters of support for the Sussex IFCA consultation, calling for a ban on inshore trawling to 4km along the Sussex coast. In March 2021 the Nearshore Trawling Byelaw was approved creating one of the largest inshore areas closed to trawling in England and the first kelp restoration project in the UK.

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