How Scientists Are Working to Restore Kelp Forests

By Elizabeth Devitt.

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 under appreciated 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.”