BENEATH the waves along the Sussex coast, there are hidden kelp forests, blue mussels and beds of native oysters.

There are nursery grounds for schools of fish and safe havens for seals and dolphins.

But what goes on underwater remains a mystery to many.

Now, a wildlife charity has won £500,000 to tell people what makes the county’s coast so special – and let them know how they can protect it.

Sussex Wildlife Trust has been awarded a £528,600 grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund for its Wild Coast Sussex Project.

The scheme sets out to inspire people to care for the marine environment.

The project is also being helped by the Marine Conservation Society, Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and the Sea Life centre in Brighton.

Nikki Hills, who is managing the project at Sussex Wildlife Trust, said the partnership would champion rare and precious species in the county.

She said: “When people hear there are seahorses off the coast of Sussex, they are still surprised.

“The underwater kelp forests, seahorses and rays once abundant in the county could recover and thrive if local communities know about them, understand the threats and support their conservation.”

The project will encourage people to see the way they behave affects coastal wildlife. Nikki said that though people have become more aware of plastic pollution and the damage it causes to our coasts, she has noticed it is on the rise again – and warned people to cut down on plastic waste.

The project is wide ranging and will target those in the fishing industry as well as schoolchildren.

Nikki said: “We’re working with towns the whole way along the coast and with schools, especially ones that can’t usually visit the shore, and hoping to help them fall in love with their local patch of beach.”

There will be an education programme, science surveys, beach cleans, volunteer training, marine conservation, litter recycling and the removal of “ghost gear” – abandoned nets and equipment – from the sea.

Sussex Wildlife Trust has run a series of major projects.

Last year, Sir David Attenborough backed its campaign to restore kelp forests along the coast.

The renowned broadcaster and naturalist hailed the loss of the Sussex kelp forests over the past 40 years “a tragedy”.

“We’ve lost a critical habitat that is key for nursery grounds, for water quality and for storing carbon,” he said.

“This marine rewilding project, if approved, will ensure the Sussex seas remain healthy for generations to come, and could have a far-reaching impact for other parts of the UK coast.”

Kelp previously flourished across the Sussex coastline, stretching 40km between Shoreham and Selsey.

But since the 1980s, changing fishing practices, the dumping of sediment spoils by dredging boats and storm damage has left it in a poor state.

Nikki said mentioning Sir David’s involvement in the Help Our Kelp project had been a big help in the lottery bid.

Stuart McLeod of The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “Protecting our natural heritage and improving people’s access and engagement with it is a key priority for National Lottery funding and we are delighted to support Wild Coast Sussex.”