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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.
Why this Matters: The West has had seasons of drought throughout its history, but with climate change and a boom in population growth, an increase in water demand could make the West even drier as we confront the reality of climate change.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer On Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to rampant wildfires consuming 1,400 acres of land in just the first three months of 2021. As historic (and maybe permanent) droughts move further east, Wisconsin finds itself in a perilous situation. Nearly the entire state is at a […]
by Larry Selzer, President and CEO, The Conservation Fund Climate change threatens every life support system we rely on—food, water, and biodiversity. The things that keep us alive are at risk, which means we are at risk. We recognize that climate change is the most pressing global challenge we have ever faced, and we must […]
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