Thursday, December 1, 2011

Final Project - Kelp Forests

     We chose kelp forests, specifically those off the Pacific Coast of the United States, as our ecosystem for this final project for two primary reasons. First, they are beautiful and almost otherworldly ecosystems, and their sheer size and difference from terrestrial landscapes makes them very compelling to study. More importantly, however, we chose to study kelp forests because of their prevalence along a large portion of the California coast. Thus, information about their history and conservation status is relevant and important for all Californians to know.

     Kelp forests exist on a regional scale, mainly in temperate regions that are about 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit. They are restricted globally because higher latitudes have too much light, and lower latitudes are too warm and do not contain enough nutrients to support the ecosystem. Within the temperate areas, kelp forests live largely in the rocky, shallow coasts of cold marine habitats. Canopy kelps, such as giant kelp, are the largest type and are located primarily on the wet coasts of North and South America. They are also present near South Africa, southern Australia, and New Zealand. Smaller varieties of canopy kelp exist in the waters off central California, Alaska, and the eastern coast of Asia.

Photo: View of giant sea kelp forest with surface sunlight
This photo of a kelp forest off the coast of Catalina Island is from a kelp forest photo gallery on the website of National Geographic (full citation below). 

     Kelp forests create a buffer from storms, therefore protecting people from rough waters and wind. People harvest kelp to feed farm-grown fish or to extract its alginic acid, which is used in products such as toothpaste and antacids. Fishing in kelp forests is important in external economies that are based on kelp-associated species such as cod, lobster, and rockfish.

Photo: School of kelp rockfish in kelp forest
This photo of rockfish swimming in a kelp forest near California's Bodega Bay is also from a kelp forest photo gallery on the website of National Geographic (full citation below). 

     Kelp forests are physiologically constrained by certain factors to stay within temperate regions, so they historically existed in the same locations as described above. Unfortunately, reliable data on kelp forests does not date back far enough to evaluate the full extent that kelp forests used to exist. Primitive people harvested sea otters, abalones, and sea urchins up to 10,000 years ago. Human hunting has greatly reduced the diversity and population of species that were once supported by the kelp forests. The baseline and density of kelp forests has been fluctuating due to storms, natural constraints, human fishing, and pollution. The storms, especially the infrequent but powerful El Niño storms, have caused massive disturbances among the forests.

     People have negatively influenced kelp forests through kelp harvesting, fishing, introducing non-native species to the ecosystem, and polluting the ecosystem. Depletion of species such as the sea otter (a predator of sea urchins) and abalone (a sea urchin competitor) causes sea urchin populations to increase. As a result, the sea urchins target the kelp, which leads to kelp forest deforestation and urchin barrens. Introduced non-native epiphyte species also decrease the extent of kelp forests.

Photo: Red sea urchins and kelp
This picture of a mass of sea urchins in a kelp forest off of British Columbia is from a sea urchin photo gallery on the website of National Geographic (full citation below). 

     Human pollution upsets the amount of nutrients and light that the forests require to grow. Industrial locations near the coast sometimes spill insufficiently treated sewage into the water. In other areas, rising sea levels cause more coastal erosion and sedimentation, which can cover the substrate that kelp typically grows on. Oil spills and global warming also negatively affect the kelp forests.

This chart detailing human effects on kelp forests is from "Kelp forest ecosystems: biodiversity, stability, resilience and future" (full citation below). 

     There are several areas of protected areas of kelp forests. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, kelp forests are protected in the following sanctuaries: the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of the Farallones, and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries.
This map of kelp forest reserves off the coast of California, "Thickest extent of kelp canopy from 2002-2005," is from the website of the Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network (full citation below). 

     The status of these protected areas varies, however. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is in generally good to fair condition, and a new and more extensive set of regulations for the sanctuary became effective in March of 2009. These include protecting the ecosystem from non-native species, vessel discharge, other discharge and activities that negatively affect the sea floor.

     As of 2009, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary would not appear to be in good condition because land-based activities cause a lot of pollution. Fishing is also a negative factor, and wildlife has declined. A new management plan was released in November of 2008 and contains 29 action plans in an ecosystem-based approach as opposed to only focusing on the sanctuary itself.

     As of 2010, the Gulf of the Farallones is in relatively good condition. However, the water quality of the San Francisco Bay is becoming a concern as a result of activities such as bottom trawling.

     As of 2008, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries are in generally good to fair condition in terms of water quality, but bottom-contact fishing is becoming a concern in this area as well.

     The future of kelp forests is uncertain. If current human trends such as pollution and damaging fishing practices continue to hurt both water quality and biodiversity, the ecosystem is in trouble. Unfortunately, it is believed that politics and human profit-based values will hinder conservation efforts.

     That being said, there are several things that can be done to further kelp forest conservation efforts. They are as follows: education programs that teach students and citizens how to protect and respect the ecosystem, stop fishing activities in the region altogether, and enforce stricter pollution regulations in order to prevent pollution from both ships and terrestrial facilities.

Works Cited
Curtsinger, William R. Kelp Rockfish. 1996-2011. Photograph. "Photo Gallery: Kelp Gardens."
     National Geographic. National Geographic Society. Web. 28 Nov. 2011
Dayton, Paul K.; Tegner, Mia J.; Edwards, Peter B.; and Riser, Kristin L. "Sliding Baselines, Ghosts,
     and Reduced Expectations in Kelp Forest Communities." Ecological Applications (1998): 309-22.
     Ecological Society of America. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <
Dayton, Paul. K.; Edwards, Peter B.; Parnell, Paul E.; and Tegner, Mia K. "Temporal and Spatial 
     Patters of Disturbance and Recovery in a Kelp Forest Community." Ecological Monographs 62.3
     (1992): 421-45. JSTOR. Ecological Society of America. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <
"Ecosystems: Kelp Forests." NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries. Office of National Marine 
     Sanctuaries, 26 Apr. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <
Gutierrez, Alfonso; Correa, Tomás; Muñoz, Verónica; Santibañez, Alejandro; Marcos, Roberto; 
     Cáceres, Carlos; and Buschmann, Alejandro H. "Farming of the Giant Kelp Macrocystis Pyrifera in 
     Southern Chíle for Development of Novel Food Products | Mendeley." Journal of Applied 
     Phycology 18. 3-5 (2006): 259-67. Mendeley. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <
King, Chad. Thickest Extent of Kelp Canopy from 2002-2005. 2006. Graphic. SIMoN -- Monterey Bay 
     Sanctuary. Kelp Forests Maps and Graphs. Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network. Web.
     29 Nov. 2011. <
Laman, Timothy G. Giant Sea Kelp. 1996-2011. Photograph. "Photo Gallery: Kelp Gardens." National 
     Geographic. National Geographic Society. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. 
Nicklen, Paul. Red Sea Urchins, British Columbia. 1996-2011. Photograph. "Photo Gallery: 
     Sea Urchins." National Geographic. National Geographic Society. Web. 28 Nov. 2011
Ortiz, Marco and Stotz, Wolfgang. "Ecological and Eco-social Models for the Introduction of the 
     Abalone Haliotis Discus Hannai into Benthic Systems of North-central Chile: Sustainability
     Assessment." Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 17.1 (2007): 98-105.
     Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://>. 
Steneck, Robert S.; Graham, Michael H.; Bourque, Bruce J.; Corbett, Debbie; Erlandson, Jon M.;
     Estes, James A.; and Tegner, Mia J. "Kelp Forest Ecosystems: Biodiversity, Stability, Resilience and 
     Future." Environmental Conservation (2002): 436-59. Foundation for Environmental Conservation.
     Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <
Tegner, Mia J. and Dayton, Paul. K. "Ecosystem Effects of Fishing in Kelp Forest Communities." 
     ICES Journal of Marine Science 57 (2000): 579-89. International Council for the Exploration of the
     Sea. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <>. 

*This web page has been changed significantly since I retrieved information from it, and I cannot find the exact pages I used over the course of my research. This is, however, the starting point for kelp forest research on this site. 

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