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Scientists are mobilizing to aid California’s crashing kelp forests, which have been decimated due to a combination of stressors, including warming oceans, the disappearance of sea stars and an associated population explosion of purple urchins.

Researchers and collaborators with UC Davis’ Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute were awarded just over $500,000 as part of the 2020 Kelp Recovery Research Program, which is funded jointly by California Sea Grant and the California Ocean Protection Council, in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

UC Davis scientists and collaborators will work to enhance kelp reseeding efforts, as well as conduct experiments to improve the removal of overabundant populations of sea urchins that eat kelp. The researchers will explore the capacity for predatory sea stars to impose a check on urchin numbers. They will also conduct modeling to understand how effective these potential solutions may be in isolation or as a combination of efforts.

Purple urchins surround a red abalone in a former a kelp forest. (Katie Sowul, CDFW)

Purple urchins surround a red abalone in a former kelp forest. (Katie Sowul, CDFW)

“We’re pleased to be one of several groups that will work to address the dramatic decline in nearshore kelp forests along the northern coast of California,” said Brian Gaylord, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory.

Other members of the project team include Marissa Baskett and Aurora Ricart of UC Davis; Mackenzie Zippay, Brent Hughes, and Sean Place of Sonoma State University; Matt Edwards of San Diego State; and Jason Hodin of the University of Washington.

The Kelp Recovery Research Program awarded a total of $2.1 million to six projects across the state. The projects will directly inform the efforts of resource managers to protect and restore kelp ecosystems statewide.

(Learn more about all of the projects in today’s California Sea Grant announcement.)

“Kelp forests are vitally important to California’s coastal environment as well as to our coastal economy,” said California Sea Grant Director Shauna Oh. “These underwater forests support wildlife, protect our coastlines, and take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

Kat Kerlin is an environmental science writer and media relations specialist at UC Davis. She’s the editor of the Science & Climate website and its “What Can I Do About Climate Change?” blog. @UCDavis_Kerlin

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