Eye on the environment: kelp forests can help restore coast

As we enjoy the waves crashing on Ventura County’s beaches, we might take a moment to consider preserving this beauty for future generations. (…) What might be the fate of the creatures in our oceans? We can save our beaches and sustain the creatures by restoring our kelp forests.

Aquatic organisms around the planet are increasingly threatened by low oxygen levels (hypoxia), also called “dead zones.” (…) Simultaneously, water is warming with climate change, and that warmer water holds less oxygen. (…)

An additional growing threat to our coastal critters is ocean acidification originating from elevated amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean to form acid, just as it does in carbonated soda. The acidic shift is subtle, but already enough to deform young sea creatures’ shells. Without strong shells, these critters often die.

Just within the last decade, the oyster industry in Washington began hatching baby oysters in Hawaii due to the slightly more acidic water off Washington’s coast. Ocean currents keep this acidification hot spot expanding south toward Ventura County.

These threats were summarized in last April’s West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel report. Oyster production in the Pacific Northwest dropped 22 percent between 2005 and 2009, the report states, and major oyster hatcheries saw production crash. Panel members explain that they are finding tiny pteropods — sea butterflies — with acid-corroded shells. If trends continue, sea butterflies, larger shellfish and some of the fish that eat them could go extinct off our coast in a couple of decades. Our newly revamped Marine Protected Areas are no help for hypoxia or ocean acidification.

The report challenges us to remove carbon dioxide from seawater by restoring seagrass and kelp forests.

People have started growing kelp in Puget Sound to quantify the carbon dioxide removal benefits. The harvested kelp will be sold for cosmetics, food, feed, fertilizer and fuel. California’s giant kelp grows rapidly and was much more abundant before humans began messing with our local reefs in the 1700s. (…)

Students can help by aiming for a career involving coastal resilience, ecological restoration or mariculture.  Preparation for a career in ocean forestry can include surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving or entering contests such as science fairs, future cities or robotics with a plan to advance ocean forestry.

Ventura County’s ocean lovers can help organize Coastal Resilience and Restoration Districts focused on integrating living shorelines with giant kelp to address ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Keep your eye on the environment at a district organizing kickoff meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Ventura Beach Marriott during the California Islands Symposium. For more information on the symposium, scheduled for Oct. 7-13, visit http://www.californiaislands.net/symposium.

Sean Anderson, Ventura County Star, 17 September 2016. Article.


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