Reviews | Climate change threatens California’s vital kelp forests

To combat the devastation, divers – first volunteers and now some paid for by the state of California – used suction tubes or hammers to destroy sea urchins by the tens of thousands and also began planting new ones. algae. New strategies include collecting and fattening sea urchins in tanks for the restaurant and sushi market.

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But there is no indication that any of this seriously helps. Hungry sea urchins – which can survive for decades in a “zombie” state of near-starvation – can live long enough to wipe out restored kelp.

Still, collaborative efforts continue between anglers, scientists, academics and conservationists with the help of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and other state agencies. At the federal level, Jared Huffman, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, is deeply concerned about the loss of kelp in his district, which includes five northern coastal counties. California.

“We have to take this as a wake-up call that conditions like this can hit us suddenly and sweep away entire ecosystems,” he said. Last year, he introduced the Keeping Ecosystems Alive and Productive Act to provide federal research and recovery grants through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In February, the Natural Resources Committee voted to forward the bill to the full House for a final vote.

All these efforts are encouraging. The bottom line, however, may be more of a downward spiral. Brian Tissot, the recently retired longtime director of the marine laboratory at Humboldt State Polytechnic University in far northern California, warned that nothing could change until the ocean returns to a state. fresher and richer in nutrients, which still happens periodically. In the long term, however, ocean heat waves will become more frequent as the planet continues to warm. At the same time the kelp disappeared, Humboldt County, normally a temperate rainforest, experienced its own devastating wildfires.

“All of these things are linked to climate change,” Dr. Tissot told me, “and they’re coming together in ways that we never thought of, making it very difficult to know what to do other than combat climate change.”

Kelp is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, spreading up to 10 inches per day and spreading 100+ feet from the ocean floor to the sea surface. But even that cannot outweigh our failure to slow the warming of our planet.

David Helvarg is the executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation group, and the co-host of “Rising Tide: the Ocean Podcast.”

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