COASTAL LIVING: Initial results positive for kelp reforestation

NANAIMO – Seaweed forests absorb carbon dioxide, provide food source.

Citizen scientists were all smiles as they caught their first glimpse of young kelp bobbing beneath Gabriola Island’s Clark Bay.

“I had snorkeled down before we planted the spores … and observed very little life and no kelp whatsoever,” said Nancy Laird, a Help the Kelp volunteer working to reforest kelp beds off Gabriola Island. “Six months later, there were actually small kelp plants.

“When you are 20 feet under the water you can’t go whoopee, but I guess I let out a few more bubbles from my regulator.”

Help the Kelp, a group of citizen scientists, tested a new technique last summer to replant kelp with hopes of helping to fight the loss of the underwater beds.

Floating bull kelp canopies are considered critical ocean habitat, absorbing carbon dioxide and providing a food source for urchins and crabs and shelter for juvenile fish.  But ecologists along the northwest coast have been concerned about its unexplained disappearance and are trying to turn the tide.

Help the Kelp plotted existing kelp canopies on Google Earth last year to monitor trends and experimented with a replanting process that saw volunteers take strips of sori from healthier kelp beds and drop them in a weighted buoy at locations around Gabriola.

The hope was they would release spores onto the ocean floor where they would reproduce and begin to grow into new forests.

Divers had their first glimpse of the success of their effort in the spring and while they are cautious about saying how well it worked, they did note kelp is growing where it hadn’t before.

“It’s very promising,” said Michael Mehta, a member of Help the Kelp.

Once the kelp reaches the surface volunteers will plot the canopies and compare the results against last year’s maps to measure the change.

“It will give us definitive evidence that not only it worked but to what extent it worked,” Mehta said.

Another replanting effort is expected this summer.