April 29, 2021

Bringing Back Kelp Forests in the Monterey Peninsula

By Maxwell Seale and Dillon Dolinar, Reef Check California Volunteer Coordinators

Tankers Reef

Kelp forest restoration along the Central Coast of California is underway with rapidly developing progress! Last year, our North Coast Reef Check Team made major headway coordinating commercial urchin fishers in restoring lost kelp forest habitat at Noyo Harbor. This year, our Central Coast Reef Check Team is leading the charge on restoration at two sites along the Monterey Peninsula: Tankers Reef and Lovers Point. 

juvenile macrocystis
Juvenile Macrocystis; Photo by Chad King

In a landmark regulation change issued by the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC), urchin fishing regulations have been amended within a 685-acre reef area in Monterey known as Tankers Reef. This regulation change follows a petition submitted by a local stakeholder group known as the Giant Giant Kelp Restoration Project (G2KR). The amendment now allows divers with valid California sport fishing licenses to take unlimited numbers of purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) and red sea urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus) via in-water culling within the confines of the restoration area, a shale reef historically dominated by giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera). Over the next three years, Reef Check California will be responsible for ecological monitoring within the restoration area to document the effects of these restoration efforts. Removal efforts will be coordinated by the G2KR team. To see this project through, we will be working with our partners at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Ocean Protection Council.

The main goals of this restoration effort are: 1) To reduce purple and red sea urchin densities to levels that facilitate kelp regrowth via in-water urchin culling and then to maintain those densities while the regulatory amendment is in place, 2) To conduct robust monitoring to evaluate the ecological effects of urchin removal, 3) To evaluate any direct or indirect impacts of this restoration approach on non-target organisms such as bycatch, damage to underlying reef structure, or disturbance of marine mammal populations and 4) To communicate results and lessons learned in a way that is both scientifically sound and informative to resource managers.

Keith Rootsaert and kelp
Keith Rootsaert checks out the kelp at Tankers Reef. Photo by Vince Christian

The G2KR team will collaborate with local dive shops whose business has been negatively affected by the rapid expansion of urchin barrens. They will be offering a PADI and NAUI Kelp Restoration Specialist Course to train recreational divers on how to work safely and effectively towards restoration. The hope is that the local dive community will adopt a standardized and scientifically guided approach to restoration and that these trainings will generate some economic benefit to the local dive shops. In addition to the project at Tankers Reef, Reef Check California is in its third year coordinating experimental restoration efforts at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. This experiment will be used to determine best practices for current and future restoration programs in both California and at restoration sites across the globe. Restoration work here is being run by our very own Reef Check California Volunteers! 

If you are interested in joining any of our Central Coast kelp restoration efforts, email Maxwell Seale, the Central Coast Volunteer Coordinator, at mseale@reefcheck.org to learn how you can help restore our changing coastline!