1270978697

1270978697

Drone image of kelp forest patches from the air. Pacific Ocean.

Photo by: LL28

LL28

Drone Images of Coastal Kelp Show Recovery is Possible

By: Robin Fearon

California’s coastal kelp forests could be making a welcome revival. Drone images show seaweed beds recovering along the north coast in Mendocino and Sonoma counties.

March 23, 2022

Environmental group Nature Conservancy’s aerial surveys of the region have seen encouraging signs of growth that could play an important part in the fight against climate change.

Kelp, a brown macroalgae, is important to the health of marine environments as it supports a huge variety of species including whales, seals, all types of fish, sea birds, sea snails, and other invertebrates. But it also helps tackle global warming because it absorbs the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Kelp forests had receded by more than 95 percent in the area since 2013, due in part to disease and higher sea temperatures. An explosion in purple sea urchins, carpeting the seafloor and eating any vegetation in their path, then stripped an area that once was thriving with seaweed.

1218431502

1218431502

An aerial drone image of Seal Rocks in Laguna Beach, CA.

Photo by: joebelanger

joebelanger

An aerial drone image of Seal Rocks in Laguna Beach, CA.

Sunflower sea stars, the urchin’s primary predator, experienced an epidemic of wasting disease in 2013 that wiped out their numbers and allowed the urchins to thrive. Bull kelp then virtually disappeared from 350km (220 miles) of California coastline between 2014 and 2019.

Nature Conservancy started surveying kelp using aerial drones in 2019. Pictures shot at 400 feet (120m) revealed the kelp forest canopy area at each of their survey sites had increased on average from one acre in 2019 to more than five a year later.

Local biologists and ecologists reported continued bull kelp growth in 2021. But that recovery may need to be helped along using conservation teams that clear urchins by hand to stop the barrens from returning. It would also restore kelp’s role in combating climate change.

Photosynthesis allows the plant to store carbon dioxide (CO2) as biomass. Its phenomenal growth rate, growing inches in a single day, allows it to soak up CO2 quickly. When the plant dies its carbon is then buried underwater in the soil. In this and other ways, coastal ecosystems can sequester three to five times more carbon than similar size tropical forests.

482626406

482626406

Aerial view of kelp beds in ocean Malibu, California. Shot with a drone, this shows a view from above of kelp beds and forests.

Photo by: Parofoice

Parofoice

Aerial view of kelp beds in ocean Malibu, California. Shot with a drone, this shows a view from above of kelp beds and forests.

Globally, macroalgae like kelp have been estimated to lock up 200 million metric tons of CO2 every year in the ocean's depths – as much as New York State’s annual emissions. One study found that farming seaweed in just 3.8 percent of California’s waters could neutralize the state’s entire agricultural CO2 emissions.

Innovation entrepreneurs want to stretch that potential even further by farming kelp to tackle global CO2 emissions. XPrize winning company Pull to Refresh believes kelp can store one trillion metric tons, enough to reverse climate change. Critics ask what impact that would have on marine ecosystems or whether it would be released back into the atmosphere, but the method could prove to be invaluable.

These ‘blue carbon’ projects are gaining in popularity. Rewilding the oceans using farmed kelp can be done without chemicals or fertilizer and boosts local fish stocks. Projects underway include the Port of Seattle’s bid to restore eelgrass and kelp beds, creating eight acres of kelp forest to remove and store CO2.

Next Up

A Dragonfly's Highly Evolved Flying Technique is Perfect for Drones

Dragonflies are nature’s most agile insect fliers and likely the most accomplished anywhere on Earth. Their ability to move in any direction at high speed or hover in one spot makes them the perfect model for robotic flight.

Clean Air Tech and Pollution Reduction Post-COVID

One of the unintended positive consequences of the coronavirus pandemic is a reduction in air pollution.

Dolphin Doctors Appointments: The Future of 3D Scanning Marine Mammals

Drones, satellite tracking, and underwater acoustic devices have made a huge difference in understanding more about the lives of whales and dolphins. Now researchers are turning to 3D laser scanning to get more accurate data about their size, shape, and general health.

Solar-Powered Robots are the Sustainable Answer to a Cleaner, Connected Planet

Solar energy is virtually unlimited and one of the cleanest forms of renewable power. So building machines driven by the sun makes perfect environmental sense.

There's a Biodiversity Crisis--Here's What You Need to Know

Despite the world slowing down during the pandemic and studies hailing the slowdown of pollution and positive benefits on the environment, there’s one thing that continued full throttle: the globe’s biodiversity crisis.

Cutting Methane is Quickest Way to Limit Global Warming Before 2030

President Joe Biden has announced plans to tackle climate change by reducing emissions of the greenhouse gas methane by at least 30% by 2030. His pledge, agreed with the European Union, aims to raise ambitions for world leaders to combat global warming ahead of the critical COP26 climate summit in November.

How a Whale Song is Helping Scientists Map the Seafloor

The echoes of fin whale vocalizations are so powerful they can penetrate volcanic rock and sediment on the ocean floor. Scientists are using these seismic waves to learn more about the deep sea.

Disaster Zone Technology Gives Rescue Missions the Edge

Disaster zones operate on tight timelines. Minutes, or even seconds, can be the difference between life and death when people are trapped by rubble, collapsed buildings, or rising waters.

Getting the Benefits of Green Spaces through Virtual Nature

Forests and other natural spaces have proven benefits for our health and mental wellbeing, but getting to the great outdoors isn’t always easy.

Meet the First Cloned Endangered Animal in North America

This black-footed ferret is not only cute, she is beyond special. Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first endangered animal to be cloned in North America.