A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Spit! Podcast with Scott Bass (of The Boardroom Show) and David Scales. Scott brought up an article about the declining kelp forests in Southern California and how greatly the loss affected the watermen of the area; from diving to fishing and of course, surfing. Overfishing, sea anemone overpopulation and global warming killed off (or ate) most of the giant kelp and shifted an entire eco system out of synch. It was a rather depressing realization.
I was super stoked to hear about Climate Cents at a recent Surfrider Foundation meeting and a project spearheaded by the Bay Foundation to restore the kelp beds in Santa Monica Bay and the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Climate Cents is a crowdfunding solution for environmental campaigns. You can contribute to saving Santa Monica’s kelp forests here: https://www.climatecents.org/projects/bring-back-the-bay-s-kelp-forests
Here’s why you should care (besides the way kelp affects the surf conditions)…
Kelp is the best way to fight global warming that you’ve never heard of. This process is especially important because our oceans absorb more than 30% of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere. As a result, our oceans are becoming increasingly acidic. Ocean acidification triggers the death of coral and hurts nearly all kinds of marine life, including the shellfish that billions of people rely on for food.
The Carbon Story
Ocean plants, from seagrasses to plankton, are less than 1% of the plant biomass on land, but they are so efficient at sucking up carbon that they cycle through approximately the same amount of carbon every year as all land-based plants!
Kelp is especially powerful. It grows at an amazing rate, up to 1 foot per day, making it one of the most productive ecosystems on earth. As the kelp re-grows, it sucks CO2 directly from the water, incorporating the carbon into its stalks and fronds, like land plants do. Plants reach maturity after about 1 year.
A recent report released by scientific institutes including the UNESCOInternational Oceanographic Commission has shown that as much as 7% of carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions we need can be achieved by protecting and restoring coastal plant life.
By restoring 150 acres of kelp forest by 2017, the Bay Foundation’s program is projected to directly store up to 19.8 million lbs of CO2 over the next decade, according to calculations based on several peer-reviewed studies.
But that’s not the end of the story. Kelp generates powerful multiplier effects.
The Wildlife Story
The re-growth of kelp forests leads to the flourishing of ecosystems that store and sequester even more carbon.
The Bay Foundation’s data show that giant kelp density has more than tripled between 2013 and 2015, with increases in other types of algae, and as a result the number and size of red urchins, the diversity of fish species, and the overall biomass of fish such as kelp bass and sheephead have increased as well. The increasing presence of coastal life translates into a more powerful system for sequestering and storing carbon.
As recent research indicates, animals can play a key role in carbon storage. In the ocean and the coastal areas restored by kelp, animals such fish, “echinoderms” (sea urchins, sea stars) and oysters not only store carbon in their bodies (some of which gets sequestered permanently when thy die and fall to the sea floor), but also release carbonate minerals like CaCO2 directly into the water which lowers the water’s acidity and stores more carbon.
The De-Toxification Story
Kelp can also suck up the excess nitrogen and phosphorous that comes from agricultural runoff and wastewater.
There are some estimates that if we “accelerate seaweed production by 15% a year (the current growth rate is 9%) by 2050 that biomass will be able to remove eighteen per cent of the nitrogen and sixty-one per cent of the phosphorous contributed to the ocean by fertilizers annually, and will take up six per cent of the ocean’s emissions-related carbon.”