Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Five years after marine scientists first sounded the alarm about a sudden collapse of the bull kelp forest off the Northern California coast, the state of the ocean offers little prospect of recovery any time soon.
Where lush stands of leafy kelp once swayed amid the waves, providing cover to young finfish and forage for abalones and other creatures on the ocean floor, a stark new world has materialized — one dominated by millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have stripped the ocean floor down to rock in some places. Were a tender frond of new kelp to sprout, it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving long.
The barrens left behind are a stark and alarming contrast to what is typically one of the most thriving marine environments — seasonal kelp forests that support a rich ecosystem with life stretching from the sea floor to the surface, and up the food chain, supporting recreational and commercial fisheries and home to some of the North Coast’s most iconic wildlife, including abalone and sea otters.
The kelp forests also are a key barometer for the wider health of the world’s oceans, and without some recovery, their future as biodiverse stores for marine life and people hangs in the balance.
Laura Rogers-Bennett, a veteran biologist who works out of the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Lab, likened the kelp forest to a great floating woodlands stretching hundreds of miles along the coast.
“To lose 95% of your forest in a year and a half, that’s a catastrophe, an ecological disaster, and it’s had so much socioeconomic impacts, as well,” she said.