What is happening with kelp forests around the world?
As oceans warm, the world’s kelp forests begin to disappear. In fact, these undersea forests that sequester carbon, support fisheries, and protect shorelines are dying at alarming rates. Under the listing of the Federal Government, the giant kelp are considered an endangered ecological community.
Today, more than 95 percent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests are gone. With the water still warming rapidly and the long-spine urchin spreading southward in the favorable conditions, researchers see little hope of saving the vanishing ecosystem. “Our giant kelp forests are now a tiny fraction of their former glory,” says Craig Johnson, a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. Satellite imagery shows that the area covered by kelp forests off the coast of Northern California has dropped by more than 95%, with just a few small, isolated patches of the bull kelp remaining.
The decline was not gradual but rather an abrupt collapse of the kelp forest ecosystem in the aftermath of unusual ocean warming along the U.S. West Coast starting in 2014, part of a series of events that combined to decimate the kelp forests.