Results from Sea Grant's six innovative research projects will help protect and restore California's vital kelp forests
Kelps are called “the sequoias of the sea”, and for good reason. These large, canopy-forming macroalgae, including both bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) and giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), can grow more than 100 feet tall, forming vast underwater forests that nourish and support marine life from tiny plankton to gray whales. Many of the more than 300 marine species that are commercially fished in California spend time in these lush algal forests. The diversity and beauty of kelp forests also provide opportunities for a variety of ocean recreation activities, from birdwatching to scuba diving to recreational fishing.
Unfortunately, in 2014 California’s kelp began to decline dramatically, with especially large die-offs along the north coast. One likely catalyst was a record-breaking marine heatwave. Another contributing factor was the proliferation of kelp-eating purple sea urchins after a wasting disease wiped out sunflower sea stars, a key urchin predator. Approximately 95% percent of kelp was lost along a 350-mile stretch of California’s Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts between 2014 and 2019, and has continued to decline. Portions of California’s central and south coasts, such as several Channel Islands and the Monterey Peninsula, have also experienced severe localized declines in kelp. These die-offs have had serious impacts on coastal communities – closing fisheries, shuttering dive shops and affecting tribal members, divers and fishermen across the state...