OMGTea is helping to protect and restore under-water kelp forests on the Sussex coastline, local to our home in Brighton and Hove. ‘A story of hope’ for marine conservation, the kelp forests are protected under a bye-law that prohibits trawling across 300km square of the seabed. As a Brighton-based company, we at OMGTea were instantly intrigued by the sea-restoration work happening in our area and were keen to get involved through our partnership with GreenTheUK and Blue Marine Foundation.

GreenTheUK is an organisation that connects businesses with UK wildlife projects. Our support is protecting 3 kelp survey sites in 2023, sponsoring the research into the bye-laws benefits on the kelp recovery and marine biodiversity.

Why Kelp?

Kelp is one of the most biodiverse and productive habitats on the planet. One kelp plant can be home to 800 species, making it an important breeding ground and environment for sea-life to thrive. In David Attenborough’s latest series Wild Isles, we see seals and even orcas amongst these magical underwater forests in northern Scotland. Attenborough celebrated the start of the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project by saying:

“Sussex’s remarkable kelp forests will now have a chance to regenerate and provide a home for hundreds of species, creating an oasis of life off the coast, enhancing fisheries and sequestering carbon in our fight against climate change. This large-scale protection of over 300 square kilometres of seabed is a vital win in the fight against the biodiversity and climate crises.”

Over the past 40 years, Sussex Kelp forests have decreased by 96% due to a combination of huge storms, trawling and other human pressures. Pioneering bye-laws that protect the sea-bed are essential for its recovery. The kelp forests and marine life now have the breathing space to regenerate and reverse the damage caused by human behaviour and climate change.

Carbon storage is another huge benefit of kelp forests. It’s estimated that some giant kelp species can sequester twice as much carbon as a rainforest, making under-water forests a key part in our fight against climate change. The rate of carbon being drawn down and stored in Sussex kelp beds is being analysed by scientists working on the project and contributing to the progress being made in our knowledge of blue carbon. 

What progress have we seen so far?

The Baited Remote Underwater videos together with other under-water footage and diver observations have recorded rays, lobsters, seals, small-spotted catsharks and short-snouted seahorses. This year, we have seen electric rays and trigger fish which have been unseen in the area for decades - and most - important kelp was washing up on Worthing beach for the first time in over 40 years.

Environmental monitoring is essential during this early period of the bye-law being passed. It has been predicted that the kelp will take several years to make a notable recovery, with this we expect to see essential fish habitats recover, and there should be an increased presence of herbivores, which are a great indicator of habitat and vegetation quality. The footage has captured other valuable seabed habitats like Dead Man’s Fingers, or small white corals, which are a key element to a biodiverse marine habitat.

More recently, in places the seabed is now covered in muscles, shrimp, lobster, and cuttle fish  to name a few and there have been more and more sightings of dolphins, seals, sharks, stingrays and even conger eels.

What is happening off the coast of Sussex is truly inspirational, so much so that other trawling exclusion zones are in review all over the UK.

If you’d like to find out more on the project, we recommend watching the introductory video below.

Central to Rewilding is the ethos of ‘letting nature lead’, which the protected area will allow the kelp to do. Kelp recovery will take time, with annual surveying we hope to see progress year on year. Of course, with the effects of climate we don’t always know what the future will hold but with a team of expert research organisations, regulators, conservation groups and supporters we hope to be a part of a big change and proud to support this pioneering project in partnership with GreenTheUK and Blue Marine.