Sugar Talk Sugar Talk Sugar talk logo

Exploring the work of Ragus sustainability partner Project Seagrass

31/01/2024 By Henry Eastick in Charity stories

Nurturing and expanding seagrass savannas around the coastal waters of Great Britain is one of the core activities of Project Seagrass. Underpinning this activity is having a supply of healthy seeds and seedlings. In late 2023, Ragus ESG Manager Henry Eastick visited Project Seagrass’s Bridgend headquarters and shares what he found out.

Understanding and supporting the seagrass reproductive cycle

European seagrass is a flowering plant with an underwater lifecycle. As a flowering plant, it mostly reproduces with seeds, but also produces rhizomes, roots that spread the grass under the seabed. The pollen is transported from plant to plant via the water column. The pollinated seeds grow into delicate seedlings that can be vulnerable in their early stages of life. 

Project Seagrass cleaning and aeration facility (left). Seagrass seeds that have been harvested from coastal waters.

Harvesting the seeds from seagrass meadows is a fun group activity open to volunteers, and I helped harvest seeds from the plants during a visit in August. Scientists at Project Seagrass monitor the health of existing meadows to ensure seed collections remain sustainable and without affecting the meadow’s ability to reproduce and grow.

This process is becoming partially automated, with an experimental seagrass seed harvester, which glides over the seagrass meadow capturing seeds from the seed pods at the tips of the seagrass plants. The harvester has the potential to significantly increase the number of seeds harvested.

This unusual looking contraption is the seagrass seed harvester that, when in its natural environment, carves a much more elegant path through the water above seagrass meadows capturing seeds from the tips of seagrass stems.

What Ragus’ IBC donation has meant

My update in August also confirmed that we’ve been accepted as sponsors for the second year running. But in addition to our cash support and volunteering, we also donate retired intermediate bulk containers (IBCs).  

The retired IBCs, used for delivering thousands of tonnes of sugar syrups to our customers, would usually end their days in storage before recycling or disposal. 

But the Project Seagrass team has extended their life by using them as perfect aeration tanks where seeds separate away from the decaying organic matter while being kept fresh and viable. And reusing the tanks makes a real contribution to the circular economy.

With the tops removed, these plastic and stainless-steel framed IBCs provide the perfect haven. Project Seagrass has an entire floor of the Bridgend facility dedicated to seed sorting and cleaning.

The Project Seagrass team and volunteers collect the seeds from shallow seagrass beds, but a major challenge is seed viability – ensuring seed survival is just as important as the collection. This had been a challenge due to capacity and ability to maintain water quality on scale.

Sorting viable seeds and the impact of fresh seawater doubles viability

The IBCs have enabled the Project Seagrass team to create an upscaled automated seawater circulation system. The IBC size and plastic construction means they can be fitted with pipes and valves providing a steady supply of fresh seawater and aeration improving seed viability rates. 

This allows the organic matter to decay, releasing the seeds which then settle to the bottom of the tanks ready for collection. All the while being aerated to help maintain viability. More healthy seedlings mean more seagrass meadows can be replanted. 

Ragus ESG Manager Henry Eastick capturing seeds which have settled to the bottom of the Ragus IBCs after cleaning.

And finally, being heavy duty plastic with stainless steel fittings, the IBCs are resistant to seawater corrosion and easy to clean ready for the next crop.

The IBCs have enabled process innovation at Project Seagrass, which in turn has helped achieve a record one million seeds collected and processed last year. This means more seagrass beds replanted and ultimately more carbon captured from the atmosphere into organic matter.

Our dedication to the environment, society and governance (ESG) and our corporate philanthropy steers our business. Do you know a charity or community programme we could support? Contact us using the form on our charities and communities page to find out how partnerships work. To see more partner news and updates, follow Ragus’ charity and community page on LinkedIn.  

Henry Eastick

Joining Ragus in 2017, Henry is the fifth generation of the Eastick family to work in the business. He has worked across our company, implementing plant and technology improvements in the factory to working in the lab developing a knowledge for our products. He focuses on our raw materials procurement as well as leading our digital transformation, adapting new technology and plant to meet our needs. His deep interest in nature and sustainability makes him a dedicated and passionate CSR manager.

View more