June 21, 2017

Kickstarter Campaign Aims to Help California Kelp Ecosystems

Purple urchin barrens observed by Reef Check California in 2015

Reef Check California has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund two multi-day expeditions to the Big Sur Coast and the Channel Islands. Since 2015, Reef Check has launched four successful Marine Ecosystem Assessments of these areas, part of a sustained effort toward the long-term monitoring of these unique coastal ecosystems. The data we collect is publicly available on Reef Check's Global Reef Tracker for scientists, marine managers and the general public to use.

Kelp forests are critical ecosystems along California's coastlines and provide food, shelter and oxygen for hundreds of species. These ecosystems are changing due to rising ocean temperatures, invasive species, marine diseases and other environmental stressors. This project aims to address these issues by collecting data that will be added to previous years' information so that fisheries managers, researchers and the public can have the scientific information they need to protect these precious habitats.

In this era of global environmental stressors like ocean acidification, rising sea temperatures and the vast reach of plastics pollution, the knowledge of what changes are occurring is key to successfully adapting management and conservation actions to protect these rich habitats. In 2015 and 2016, we documented trends that were both alarming and encouraging. We saw increases in invasive species, the loss of sea stars, and declines in kelp forest. But we also saw encouraging signs, for example, purple urchins which are devouring kelp forests north and south of the Big Sur coast, were on the decline along this remote stretch of coastline in 2016. At Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, which has been a Marine Protected Area since 2003, we found that giant kelp had returned and the urchin barren that had been there since we first started monitoring in 2008 was gone. These are just some examples of why it is so important to maintain the long-term collection of these data. They document the changes to these remote and unique ecosystems and their responses to environmental stressors over time.

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Left: Bull kelp forest and Pile Perch in Big Sur. Right: Giant kelp forest and Blue Rockfish in Channel Islands.