Major declines in floating kelp abundance have been documented throughout Puget Sound. These species of large brown algae are an essential component of coastal rocky reef habitats in temperate oceans throughout the world. In Washington State, the bull kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, and the giant kelp, Macrocystis spp., form extensive forests in shallow, rocky habitats. Because of their fast growth rates and large sizes, these algae are thought to contribute greatly to the productivity of shallow coastal marine ecosystems and as habitat for a diversity of fishes and invertebrates.
Our goal is to reverse declines in canopy kelp beds in Puget Sound and develop viable solutions to recover the essential habitat they provide.
Where has the kelp gone in Puget Sound?
Kelp forests are the carbon factories of estuaries
Kelp grow into massive vegetative structures, that feed numerous species from bacteria to hefty grazers, making kelp forests one of the most productive habitats on the planet. Tiny crustaceans grow on kelp and become prey for many other species, including juvenile salmon and rockfish. Restoring Puget Sound’s diminishing kelp forests could provide key habitat for species throughout the marine foodweb.
Running the gauntlet
Bull kelp, which resembles long whips with bulbs on the end, is an annual, meaning it starts from scratch every year. Establishing enhancement techniques to restore lost kelp beds is a challenge. It is easy enough to plant kelp and get it to grow for one year, but more difficult to find ways for that kelp to sustain and serve as a source population by which the entire kelp bed expands. We are working to do just this - incubate and deploy techniques that lead to establishment of persistent bull kelp beds in critical areas in Puget Sound
Experimental kelp outplanting and cultivation
Because bull kelp does not stick around from year to year, changing conditions can lead to success or failure for a single kelp or for an entire kelp forest. For kelp to survive, habitat conditions must be suitable. Creating these optimal conditions is our goal with a new kelp lab facility, where we are conduct bull kelp and sugar kelp propagation and research.
Washington Department of Natural Resources reports that floating kelp beds have all but disappeared from southern Puget Sound. Declines are also reported generally from the Salish Sea, including British Columbia, Canada. Kelps affect many species directly and indirectly that depend on the presence of these forests. This short film describes PSRF's bull kelp restoration efforts.
This film depicts some of PSRF's efforts to rebuild bull kelp beds. Based on our pilot project in Port Gamble during the 2011-2012 season, 3 techniques were developed and deployed to reestablish this fast-growing and once abundant resource. What did we learn from this first step? We saw some survival but not substantial amounts. PSRF is using what we have learned, and taking next steps through integration of what we learn in hatchery with our in-water work. As a core program, we are committed to continuing our kelp research and restoration moving forward.