Environmental News from the United States:
- Kelp forests grow along more than one-quarter of the world’s coastlines and are among the planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems. But these critical habitats are disappearing due to warming oceans and other human impacts.
- Sudden recent wipeouts of vast kelp forests along the coastlines of Tasmania and California highlighted how little was known about protecting or restoring these vital marine ecosystems.
- Scientists are finding new ways to help restore kelp, but promising small-scale successes need to be ramped up significantly to replace massive kelp losses in some regions.
- Global interest in studying seaweed for food, carbon storage, and other uses may help improve wild kelp restoration methods.
Hidden beneath the waterline, the world’s kelp forests grow along more than one-quarter of all seacoasts, supporting a richness of biodiversity that naturalist Charles Darwin believed could rival that of tropical rainforests. But also unseen, these critical habitats are vanishing due to warming ocean currents, pollution, overharvesting, and other human impacts.
Despite centuries of accumulated knowledge gained from seaweed cultivation in Pacific Rim countries, the regional declines of kelp beds and recent sudden wipeouts of vast kelp strongholds have underscored just how little conservationists know about protecting or restoring these vital undersea forests, says Karen Filbee-Dexter, a University of Western Australia marine ecologist who studies climate change impacts on kelp.
“Kelp forests are underappreciated and understudied compared to other coastal ecosystems,” says Filbee-Dexter. “But we need to better understand them. They are one of the most extensive marine life plant habitats that we have on Earth, [while] the evidence is overwhelming showing that they are changing really rapidly.”
Researchers first got a wake-up call when marine heatwaves abruptly devastated entire kelp forests on the Tasmanian coast in 2011 and Northern California in 2014. When the towering stalks and blades of kelp went away, so did many marine species they supported. And as rock lobster, abalone and fish vanished, commercial fisheries worth millions shut down. Additionally, losing wild kelp forests reduces the protection of coastal communities from storm surges and removes an important carbon sink. Scientists estimate that the world’s kelp forests store anywhere from
The good news is that scientists are finding ways to successfully restore kelp. But these newly discovered methodologies need to be scaled up significantly — and fast — to reverse the massive losses that have occurred in some regions, including Australia, Norway, Nova Scotia, and California.
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