Similar to all other blue carbon ecosystems, kelp forests are among the most degraded - but their disappearance is the hardest to see.
Beneath the surface of the ocean lies a hidden forest - but one that looks significantly different than it once did a decade ago. Known as “the sequoias of the sea” for their rich biodiversity and carbon sequestration potential, kelp forests are home to hundreds of marine species - until recently.
As Oceans Warm, the World’s Kelp Forests Begin to Disappear
These underwater ecosystems have faced detrimental impacts over the last several decades. Today, only 5% of the historical population of kelp remains, with 90% having disappeared from the California coast in just the last 10 years.
Set in motion by a marine heat wave in 2013, the dissapearance of these underwater forests has made the landscape unrecognizeable to what it once was.
Although marine heat waves can occur naturally, these devastating events has been linked back to human-induced global warming - which have wrecked havoc on ocean ecosystems and killed off species vital to the survival of kelp forest.
A desolate landscape
These climate-driven catastrophes allowed for the population of native purple sea urchin species to explode after one of its last remaining predators, the sunflower starfish, succumbed to a mass die-off starting in 2013.
And despite playing a role in a healthy kelp forest, sea urchins can proliferate and create "barrens" where kelp cannot grow.
Urchin barrens are essentially permanent until they are removed, eating young kelp before it has a chance to establish itself.
Known as "zombie" urchins, they are roe-less, starving, and barely alive, refusing to die off naturally when there is no kelp left to consume, and can survive for several decades, biding their time until more grows.
Kelp restoration involed removing or "culling" urchins - allowing kelp to quickly grow back to its prior extent. Other urchin predators can then keep the small population under control while marine life and hundreds of species return to the area.
Kelp is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet, growing up to 2-3 feet per day in ideal conditions.
Utilizing this power could be a key to mitigating climate change across the world. And the latest science suggests that kelp forests have the potential to sequester even more carbon than mangrove forests.
Similarly to other blue carbon ecosystems, kelp absorbs carbon dioxide from both the atmosphere and the ocean, stores it, and then exports a large portion of its biomass out into the deep sea, sinking it to the deep ocean permanently - essentially becoming part of the ocean floor.
In fact, each year 10% of kelp primary productivity is permanently sequestered.
KELP CARBON STORAGE
Kelp Carbon Science Study
In addition to restoring these powerful underwater ecosystems, we have begun working on scientific research to quantify the carbon sequestration potential of kelp forests, and to develop policy for kelp forest conservation as a blue carbon resource.
To learn more about this study and how restoring these sequoias of the sea is critical to solving climate change, please go here.
To learn more about our various kelp forest restoration projects, please visit the following pages on our website: