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Posted on: November 17th, 2021

Part of my Big Wave summer was spent making a short film for the Kelp Summit, happening on the 17th November. You can watch it live here.

Commissioned by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and funded by the People’s Post Code Lottery and the Post Code Planet Trust, our brief was to film an update on the environmental research that’s happened since the Sussex Inshore Fisheries & Protection Authority’s landmark inshore trawling ban was green-lit in March 21.

The extended team of scientists involved with the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project are really quite an amazing group. At ZSL we filmed Dr Chris Yesson telling us about his kelp genetics study.  ‘We really want to understand how the remnant kelp populations we have in Sussex are related to wider populations across the South coast. Understanding this will help us to manage the recovery process’’ explains Chris.

It gave me the idea to do a short scene explaining how kelp reproduces and led me back to work with plankton guru and macro photographer, Dr Richard Kirby aka the @planktonpundit. ‘If you get me some kelp with ‘sporangia’ (basically fruiting bodies that produce spores) I will give it a go’ said Richard. It was quite late in the season when I came up with this idea and the only way I could get a specimen fast was to paddleboard out to mooring buoys in the Chichester harbour and see if I could find some. ‘Once you’ve got a specimen, wrap it in a nappy, soak it in seawater and send it to me’ said Richard. The resulting footage of the spores, which looks like twinkling stars, helped me to explain how the tiny ‘kelp-lets’ get transported far and wide in the currents. It was also an important part of my vision to explain how the Sussex seabed could recolonise itself.

‘Dolphins’ shouted the IFCA team, as another extraordinary day on the water unfolded, as some 20 dolphins surrounded us.  This time we were filming Dr Jen Lewis on the IFCA fisheries vessel Watchful.  ‘Kelp beds are really vital nursery grounds and that’s why we really want to see them come back so that we can ensure a long-term, sustainable inshore fishery’ says Jen as she gave me a running commentary of what she was seeing on the seabed, from cameras mounted on a remote operated vehicle, or ROV. Underwater camerawoman, Gail Jenkinson and safety diver Aaron Hindes were expecting to film the ROV,  and got the shock of their lives  when they were suddenly surrounded by the dolphins.

We also had a wonderful day with Dr Mika Peck from Sussex University on the Mulberry Divers’ rib skippered by Steve Frampton. This time we were filming Mika conducting BRUV surveys which involves leaving a ‘baited remote underwater camera’ on the seabed. Any species that checks out the BRUV gets filmed, and the footage is later analysed in a joint research project supported by the Blue Marine Foundation. This day was made especially special for everyone as this was the first time we were able to film a large area of really healthy kelp in an area that historically has not been trawled. ‘This is actually the first time I’ve seen such a large kelp bed here in Sussex. It gives me great hope, now we’ve taken some of the pressures off, that we’re going to see nature really restoring and bouncing back’ says Mika.

Days later we were filming at the Sussex University campus with the live-wire, Dr Valentina Scarponi, as she reviewed the first results in from their e-DNA study, conducted along some 30 sites along the Sussex coast. This is such cool science; from a small water sample Valentina can identify exactly what has been swimming in the area. The data from Nature Metrics revealed 42 species of fish and 9 decapods, creatures like crabs and lobsters. So this is very exciting, so this is our baseline, we have an idea of what species we have now’ says Valentina.  This will be used in future years to hopefully see how the life in Sussex waters improves.

One of the last scenes we filmed was with Dr Raymond Ward from Portsmouth University as he collected his first deep water carbon core.  ‘I’ve been doing a lot of work on blue carbon with a specific focus on mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marsh.  We know quite well how much carbon is locked away in those blue carbon ecosystems. We just don’t know for kelp.  We know that it’s a highly productive ecosystem, i.e. it locks away lots of carbon very rapidly in its biomass. But what happens to that carbon after the biomass starts to break down? We don’t know’ says Ray.

As we headed out to the first sample site off the Rampion Wind Farm, once again we were surrounded by dolphins. I’ve decided I bring dolphin luck on our boat trips! Safe diving requires working to strict HSE regulations and because of the depth, the team were diving on mixed gas. Once again, we had a top team namely: Supervisor Neville Blake from the catamaran, the New Dawn; Andy Piers Morris from the Dive Company who was kitted up as our safety diver at the surface and underwater were archaeological divers, Martin Davies & Rodrigo Ortiz-Vazquez watching out for Ray as he hammered in his first core.

Talented editor, Rhiannon Burton and I then set to, to cut the film ready for the Summit. Cutting to some wonderful music from Ty Unwin (one of my composer heroes 😊),  my absolute favourite closing sound bites came from the amazing Sally Ashby, Kelp Lead, from the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

We are at the beginning of an incredible journey, and the kelp won’t recover overnight but what happens here, and what we gain in understanding will have a huge impact across the whole of the UK. At a time of ecological and climate crisis, we have to restore nature at scale.

This project is a shining example of that’ says Sally.

You can see the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project science film HERE