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The saying has never been truer than for kelp.
These magnificent underwater forests are some of the most productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth. They cover a third of the world's coastlines (five times as much as coral), act as protective nurseries for young marine life, shelter our shores from storms, provide food and wonder, and are some of the best carbon sequesters around.
Even so, these vital 'amber forests' were largely overlooked by everyone except the enthusiasts who dive in them – until they started disappearing at an alarming rate. In some places 95% have gone in our generation.
Now at last the world is paying attention, led by these kelp champions who observe, record, preserve, conserve, educate and celebrate all things kelp. Keep an eye out for more heroes as our list grows – and please tell us if you know anyone we should add to it.
Although Samuel grew up on the Canadian coast, he didn’t fall in love with kelp forests until his early adulthood when he began learning about them in the classroom. Sam’s kelp journey began with trying to understand their evolution. During his PhD at the University of British Columbia, he used DNA-based approaches to examine where kelp came from, how they evolved and how different species are related to each other. Then everything changed: during 2014-2016 Northeast Pacific Marine Heatwave (aka “The Blob'“) Sam witnessed large-scale declines in kelp forests, and changed his focus to the impacts of climate change on kelp forests. Sam is currently a Forrest Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, studying what factors allow some kelp populations to be more resilient to warming and other climate change-associated drivers. Follow Sam for more about his work.
It's called ‘oarweed’ in English, or ‘Leathrach’ where it grows on the Irish coastline, but to Dr Diane Purcell Laminaria digitata spells an exciting breakthrough in studies of kelp for health. She and her team have extracted protein powder from this kelp species that has functional food and potential antihypertensive activity – which means it could be a key product in helping to control blood pressure. Diane has been working in algal research for 20 years in freshwater ponds, ocean and coastal environments, and even hot springs. She is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at Teagasc (Ireland's Tea Agriculture and Food Development Authority) and the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand, and was funded on the ALGIPRO project through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme #754380. "This is a very exciting time to be working on seaweed with such a numerous array of possible products which will I think assist in the increased growth of seaweed along our coastlines," Diane says. Read more about her research, or follow her on twitter.
"Bottom trawling as well as other human impacts here in Sussex can have a devastating effect on our seabed," says freediver Steve Allnut. Over 28 years monitoring the Sussex Seabed, Steve saw a marked decline in kelp beds. In March 2021, a 170-square-kilometre exclusion zone was introduced along the inshore waters, and Steve set to work re-wilding the Sussex coastline with different species of kelp – some grown in a 'kelp hub' in his garage. Steve founded the Sussex Seabed Restoration Project (SSRP) to involve local communities along the Sussex coastline, developing awareness of the consequences of the destruction of the seabed and how they can play a crucial role in its protection, and help bring back sea kelp and fish. Currently, bottom trawling and dredging are still permitted in over 97% of the UK's offshore MPAs. Hopefully this will change as growing numbers of locals – including fishermen – experience the benefits of allowing nature to thrive, and take pride in their shared blue resources. Let Steve take you into the Great Sussex Kelp Forest, then dive into the ban on bottom trawling in this video from ITV.
Who says technology can't help you find love? Dr. Patrick Martone is a professor and phycologist in the Botany Department at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Through the Martone Lab he inspires students about the wonders of seaweed, exploring the biomechanics, evolution, and ecophysiology of marine macroalgae. He also developed the 'Seaweed Sorter', a mobile app that helps users identify – and hopefully fall in love with – more than 100 seaweed species on their phone. Try it out for iPhone or Android.
Dr Tiff Stephens thought she wanted to work with crabs and urchins, until an invertebrate class forced her to also learn about seaweeds. Captivated by the diversity of colours, morphology, and life histories, she's been chasing seaweeds ever since. Tiff currently works with farmers, business owners and other industry stakeholders in Southeast Alaska, helping to expand mariculture efforts for kelps and commercial shellfish. She is also collaborating with the Metlakatla Indian Community to support their mission in cultivating black seaweed (Pyropia abbottiae), a close relative to Nori, which has been harvested by Native Alaskans since time immemorial. Find her on Twitter.
South African conservationist and marine biologist Loyiso Dunga (aka the Kelp Keeper) fears that the great underwater forests could disappear before many humans have even realised their worth. Loyiso is a global ambassador for kelp forest ecosystems, with a passion for environmental education and outreach. He works closely with groups like Sentinel Ocean Alliance to create ocean-based opportunities, and provides environmental education using both scientific and indigenous knowledge for the youth of South Africa’s coastal communities. His work with kelp includes using remote sensing to map South African kelp forests and assess their threat status using National Biodiversity Assessment and IUCN RLE approaches. Watch Loyiso in action in this short documentary.
People pressure. That's the biggest threat to the world's kelp forests. Pippa Moore, Professor of Marine Science School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, studies how human activities impact kelp, and how promoting healthy kelp forests can help protect us from the impacts of climate change (carbon sequestration and coastal protection against storm surges being just two of them). Current projects include ecosystems-based fisheries management for more sustainable kelp harvesting in Chile and Peru, understanding how UK seaweed farms sequester kelp carbon, and tracking the recovery of kelp forest communities along heavily industrialised coastlines. Find out more here.
Come together, connect and collaborate: Aaron is the Founder and Program Director of the Kelp Forest Alliance, a global community of practice and a freely available global database on restoration projects where people can upload new information about their own projects. By bringing data and people together, Aaron was the lead author on the first ever kelp restoration guidebook, and the first global review and analysis of kelp forest restoration across 300 years of practice. He is currently based in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. His work spans marine ecology, economics, science communication and practice. Explore more at Kelpforestalliance.com.
How do marine ecosystems respond to human pressures? Dan is a ‘bucket and spade ecologist’ whose work with the Marine Biological Association of the UK focuses on how marine ecosystems weather the spread of invasive species, decreased coastal water quality, and climate change. Over the past 15 years, he's studied kelp forest ecologies in Australia, South America and Europe. He is currently looking at ‘carbon connectivity’ in both wild and farmed kelp populations with a view to maximising natural solutions to climate change mitigation. Find out more here.
The Haida Nation holds close relationships with the land, sea and air of Haida Gwaii that span millennia. Now the traditional knowledge of the Haida Nation is helping restore kelp forests in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site in British Columbia, Canada. Gwaii Haanas is cooperatively managed by the Council of the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and Fisheries and Ocean Canada via a cooperative, consensus-based body called the Archipelago Management Board. The project Chiixuu Tll iinasdll translates as 'Nurturing Seafood to Grow' and is mimicking sea otter predation on sea urchins for kelp forest restoration. The Haida Nation and Parks Canada co-lead this and many other ecological conservation and restoration projects for and by local communities. Past Gwaii Haanas projects include restoring old growth forests and streams on land to support the return of salmon to their ancestral spawning grounds. Learn more here.
Earthshot Prize winner Josie Iselin has been making imagery of, researching, and writing about seaweed and kelp for many years. A decade ago Iselin realised she could use her flatbed scanner to capture the intense colour and magnificent forms of marine algae; she has been exhibiting portraits of her 'intertidal heroes' (seaweed and kelp) at galleries and museums ever since. She also wrote and researched two books (An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed and The Curious World of Seaweed), which took her deep into the science of seaweed. Her current project Chasing Kelp recounts the stress and decline of the bull kelp forests of Northern California. Discover more at josieiselin.com, follow her on Instagram, or watch her at work here.
Nothing in an ecosystem exists alone, and kelp is no exception. Chilean professor Dr Erasmo Macaya Horta is director of ALGALAB (Algal Research Laboratory) at the University of Concepción Department of Oceanography. He has a special interest in the ecology of kelp communities, in particular floating kelp rafts, and especially those in nearby Antarctica. His ALGALAB entertains and educates audiences through talks, workshops, and moving media so more people can learn to love kelp forest ecosystems and help in their conservation. Find out more at algalab.com.
Giant kelp is the world's largest marine algae, and grows up to 40 metres tall. These Tasmanian giants all but disappeared due to climate change and warming ocean conditions, but a team lead by Dr Cayne Layton, at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania is working to bring them back. They identified several varieties of giant 'super kelp' naturally more tolerant of warmer waters, and began using these in restoration trials; just 18 months in, the kelp in two experimental ‘seed patches’ are already over 10m tall. “Hopefully this is just the start of these patches becoming self-sustaining but also self-expanding,” Cayne says. See more here.
Every problem has a solution, and sometimes that solution is seaweed sex. Professor Adriana Vergés is a marine ecologist based at UNSW Sydney, where she co-leads a kelp restoration project to re-establish lost underwater forests of crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) in the Sydney Metropolitan region. Crayweed can either be male or female, so Adriana's team transplants a mix of both onto denuded reefs using a biodegradable mesh — and lets them get on with reproducing and re-establishing an essential habitat and food source for Sydney’s coastal marine biodiversity. Read all about it at OperationCrayweed.com.
No nation appreciates the culinary benefits of kelp and seaweed more than Japan. Mobile Sea Otters aims to restore and conserve the beautiful and fertile Japanese seaweed forests, collaborating with scientists, fishermen, divers and others to help conserve a healthy marine ecosystem, contribute to the local fishery industry, and mitigate climate change. Field activities with volunteer divers include culling overgrazing urchins (considered a culinary delicacy) that eat through kelp forests, as well as installing spore bags to help seaweeds grow. Regular educational workshops aim to increase awareness and share the best practices with divers who wish to support Mobile Sea Otters. The Otters are also mapping and quantifying blue carbon (CO2 sequestered by kelp and seaweed) in various regions across Japan, including the Oita, Yamaguchi, Chiba and Iwate prefectures. Find out more.
When she's not taking temperatures at the bottom of the Salish Sea, Dr Brooke Weigel of Friday Harbor Labs creates beautiful sketches and prints of her favourite marine subjects. Brooke is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington. Her research examines how the interactive effects of thermal stress and nitrogen limitation impact bull kelp physiology, survival and reproductive success. It aims to inform management of declining bull kelp populations and restoration efforts in the Salish Sea. (It also provides powerful artistic inspiration.) Find out more here.
Australian-based Professor Melinda Coleman is a leading expert in kelp forest conservation whose focus is on future-proofing these underwater ecosystems. Spurred by documenting the complete extinction of kelp forests in Oman and kelp decline around Australia, she recognised the need for upscalable, easy-to-deploy techniques to bring back these marine forests. Melinda is part of the award-winning Operation Crayweed team, which is one way her team uses cutting-edge genetic information to pioneer transformative restoration methods that will allow kelp forests to persist under climate change. Another is the Green Gravel Action Group, that has pioneered a technique for seeding small rocks or line with kelp propagules, rearing them in the lab and then out-planting them into the field. More at greengravel.org and OperationCrayweed.com.
Dr Chris Neufeld leads the Kelp Rescue Initiative — protecting and restoring kelp forests to secure resilient and vibrant ecosystems in the waters of British Columbia. Chris, an adjunct professor at The University of British Columbia Okanagan, and a Research Scientist at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the outer reaches of Vancouver Island, studied the organisms that live in and depend on kelp forest for more than 15 years. After witnessing the forest decline in Canada from 2016, he now heads this collaborative initiative to protect and restore kelp forests, with a focus on the most ecologically significant areas. To learn more, visit kelprescue.org.
How did giant kelp develop two different forms with almost no geographic overlap across its global range? This is the kind of 'morphological mystery' that fascinates Sara, a recent Ph.D. graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Seeking to understand the ecology and natural history of kelp and advance kelp aquaculture for both environmental and societal benefits, her Ph.D. research focused on giant kelp, and its alginate – a structural polysaccharide with important industry uses. Her upcoming research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will also involve selective breeding for sugar kelp cultivation and optimisation of desired kelp traits. Find out more here.
Brian fell in love with kelp forests working as a SCUBA instructor in the Salish Sea on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. But after witnessing the repercussions of marine heatwaves on kelp forests first-hand (virtually all local Bull kelp forests disappeared from the dive sites he frequented over just a few years) he dived into academia, earning a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Geography focussing on kelp monitoring and restoration. Brian is about to embark on his PhD in The Baum Lab, working with a newly discovered historical seaweed data set to study the effects of climate change on temperate near-shore ecosystems over the past 50 years. He will also use these data to guide restoration efforts in the Salish Sea. Follow him on Twitter or read more about these ongoing collaborative projects at juliakbaum.org and kelprescue.org.
There are important stars in the kelp forest – urchin-eating Sunflower Sea Stars, that is. Dr Sara Hamilton tracked the recovery of Sea Star populations after the massive Sea Star Wasting epidemic, which had deep implications for kelp forests since they keep kelp-gobbling urchins in check. Sara also uses satellites and drones to monitor how bull kelp forests change over time to understand which socio-ecological conditions allow kelp to flourish. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, and Chair of the Scientific and Technical Committee for the Oregon Kelp Alliance, a community-based kelp forest monitoring and restoration group. See more here.
Dr Tom Mumford (aka @KaptnKelp) has been studying marine algae since 1965. He has developed mariculture techniques for the cultivation of seaweeds for producing carrageenan, agar, and nori, serves on a number of scientific advisory boards, and is involved in grants for kelp biomass and novel cultivation techniques. He works to implement the Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan, which includes research into finding and reducing kelp stressors, mapping kelp distribution and trends, designating kelp protected areas, restoring kelp forests, and promoting awareness, engagement, and action from user groups, tribes, the public, and decision makers. More at marineagronomics.com.
Kate is an underwater photographer, marine scientist, and dive master based in Monterey Bay, California. Her photography and videography explores California's underwater coast and captures the diverse marine life hidden below the surface. With a scientific background in ecology specialised to California's iconic kelp forests, she uses a lens of science to bring light to the ocean's breathtaking beauty and incredible intricacy. “I hope to immerse viewers in the kelp forest's magic by sharing the colourful stories of this underwater world, and in turn inspire awe and conservation for the vibrant life found on our blue planet.” View her work here.
Who says kelp is just a smelly, slimy weed? London-based artist and activist Camilla Brendon uses bright colours and playful shapes to create aesthetically intriguing 'kelp' scenes as beautiful as what you find under water. In Kelp Forest - Enhancing Biodiversity and Fighting Climate Change she recreated a kelp forest out of 100% single use and salvaged materials, predominantly plastics. The forest was suspended from the ceiling and visitors were able to walk amongst the kelp as if they were diving in a kelp forest. Her work intends to spark deeper conversation around sustainability and ways to mitigate climate change. More at camillabrendon.com and on Instagram.
Their passion is to protect and restore kelp ecosystems. If their work inspires you, please follow the links to connect with them. The more you celebrate them, the more support their work will get. Use the hashtag #LoveKelp on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and share this article. And finally, please let us know if there is someone we should add to the list!
Fill in your details below to get regular updates through our newsletter.
The Lewis Pugh Foundation is a registered charity in England & Wales.
Charity Registration no. 1168977.