Disappearing Kelp Forests Alarm Scientists

May 14, 2019

There are forests of kelp in the Atlantic Ocean off southern New England. And some of the forests are in trouble. That’s according to a team of researchers from several schools, including Southern Connecticut State University.

Sean Grace of SCSU and his team looked at kelp forests in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. And these forests sound beautiful.

“When you’re underwater and looking at them you can see the kelp blades kind of waving around. And it’s this 3D structure that supports a lot of fish species, a lot of other invertebrate species as well.”

But the water is getting warmer, and these forests of wavy kelp are dying. They’re being replaced by this scrubby stuff called turf algae.

“If you picture a forest being replaced by, ach, a bunch of bushes. I think that would probably be the best way to describe it.”

That means the residents of those kelp forests won’t have anything to eat. You can’t live off scrubby old bushes. And it doesn’t just affect them.

“It produces a less healthy and a less biodiverse system. And yeah, that does affect us. It affects water quality, it affects fish populations, it just affects the ability to go to the beach and enjoy it.”

So what can we do about it? Can’t we just scoop up all this turf algae?

“It’s pretty thick. It sticks around for a good period of time. So I think the question will become how do we manage the turf so we can create open space for kelp settlement?”

This isn’t just happening here. It’s happening at spots all around the world. Grace says this could be the beginning of an extinction event for kelp – if we don’t find a way to intervene.