Kelp once stretched along 40 km of the West Sussex coastline from Selsey to Shoreham, forming an underwater forest that extended at least 4 km seaward. It provided a vital habitat, nursery and feeding ground for seahorses, cuttlefish, lobster, sea bream and bass. It locked up huge quantities of carbon, helping us to fight climate change, while improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion by absorbing the power of ocean waves. But within living memory, kelp in Sussex waters has diminished to almost nothing. Storm damage, changing fishing practices and the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging boats have taken their toll on this sensitive habitat. The wildlife associated with it has all but disappeared, and the vital ecosystem services it provided have been lost.
A key first step is to give the kelp some breathing space to recover. To achieve this, the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) is proposing a new local byelaw to stop trawling within 4 km of the coast. If the byelaw is approved, the marine rewilding project can truly begin.
Dr Sean Ashworth, Deputy Chief at Sussex IFCA says, “If we want healthy seas that are sustainable for wildlife and fishing for generations to come, we urgently need to give our kelp forests a chance to regenerate. The introduction of a new byelaw to restrict trawling along the Sussex coast is critical, and we are now seeking comment and support from the local community to make sure this happens.