August 29, 2022

Restoration of Northern California Bull Kelp Forests Report

By Reef Check’s Restoration Program Director Annie Bauer-Civiello

Over the last two years, Reef Check Foundation has been working in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Ocean Protection Council, The Nature Conservancy, Noyo Center for Marine Science, and commercial fishermen in a collaborative, community-based approach to restoring the bull kelp forest ecosystems in Mendocino County.

Restoration occurred in two sites, Noyo Bay, beginning in August 2020, and Albion Cove in July 2021. Results from 15 months of restoration efforts at Noyo Bay and four months at Albion Cove are now available in our Restoration of Northern California Bull Kelp Forest Report!

Since 2014, more than 96% of bull kelp in Sonoma and Mendocino counties have been lost due to ecological and oceanographic stressors linked to climate change. Due to the limited recovery over the last eight years and the explosion of kelp-eating purple sea urchin populations, the protection and restoration of California’s kelp forest have become a top priority for state resource managers and the Reef Check team.   

Funded by the Ocean Protection Council, Reef Check led a collaborative effort to reduce urchin densities within Noyo Bay and Albion Cove in response to the emerging need to restore kelp forest ecosystems in Mendocino County. Over two years, commercial urchin divers removed 45,118 lbs of purple urchins from two restoration sites. In Noyo Bay, Reef Check divers documented an increase in kelp over 15 months at the restoration area, with bull kelp reaching 20% of the historical density. No change was observed in the nearby unrestored urchin barren.  

Reef Check continues to monitor the testing of kelp forest restoration tools such as hand harvesting, urchin trapping, and kelp enhancement strategies, with support from The Nature Conservancy and California resource managers.

This project supports Reef Check’s vision of thriving oceans that are cared for by communities and are sustained for generations to come.

For more information, you can download the full report or view the 2-page report summary. Or you can also check out our recent webinar discussing the results from this project.