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Northern California’s kelp forests declined by as much as 95% since 2013due in part to an intense ocean warming period between 2014 and 2017 which stressed kelp and likely supercharged a mass die-off of starfish. Starfish prey on native purple urchins, keeping their numbers in check and without these predators, the urchins proliferated, devouring kelp forests at a staggering pace.
Why This Matters: As global efforts focus on protecting and replanting forests, we can’t forget about the world’s underwater forests. Ecosystems like kelp and seagrass have immense ability to sequester carbon–kelp especially, a process that cleantech companies are looking to supercharge. It’s unclear if kelp restoration programs and urchin culling can overcome the stresses posed to California’s kelp forests, though scientists and volunteers aren’t giving up.
What’s Next: As Smithsonian Magazine explained, “At this point, getting kelp forests to come back to the Northern California coast means the purple urchins carpeting the bottom have got to go. But getting rid of the urchins is no easy feat. Despite having eaten all their favorite foods, the simple, hardy spiked invertebrates somehow manage to persist.”
Meredith McPherson, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz’s Ocean Sciences department and coauthor of the study told the San Francisco Chronicle that, the urchins “can actually survive under starvation conditions” adding that, “The impact has been that basically there is no kelp forest at all left, really.”
While individual ocean warming events cannot necessarily be attributed to climate change, these heatwaves are being made worse and more frequent by a rapidly warming planet. Climate change also stresses entire ecosystems, making them far less resilient to sudden natural events–which is the case with California’s kelp forests. There are serious efforts underway by researchers to help replant kelp forests and protect the keystone species that keep them healthy, but this work is racing the clock of a rapidly warming planet.
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer The giant sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park are over 1,000 years old and could live another 2,000 years, but climate change-fueled fires are killing them. The trees can usually withstand the flames, but the intensity of recent fires has been overpowering. Last year’s Castle Fire killed up […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor As wildfires and deforestation grip the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous communities are urging world governments to pledge to protect 80% of the forest by 2025. The groups launched their campaign at a biodiversity conference in France, where experts from around the world are laying the groundwork for the UN’s delayed […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new assessment found that at least 30% of the world’s 60,000 tree species are nearing extinction in the wild. The number of tree species threatened— 17,500— is twice that of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined. Why this Matters: Trees are crucial to maintaining the earth’s ecosystems. Trees not […]
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