Will Orange County ever get its kelp forest restored? The answer is “yes” according to a team of biologists whose goal is to reforest the entire 42-mile coastline with the help of some very dedicated marine biologists.
- Ray Hiemstra, associate director of Coastkeeper, has worked on kelp restoration for 15 years.
- Marine biologist Mike Curtis managed a part of the restoration project associated with Wheeler Reef at Crystal Cove State Park.
- Get Inspired founder, Nancy Caruso, also a marine biologist, works with students and the community leading a team of volunteer divers grow kelp, white sea bass and green abalone. Her project focuses on planting kelp as well as monitoring sea urchin behavior and the white abalone population in Orange County ocean waters. Her organization also works with local schools to help students get inspired and raise kelp and fish in classrooms.
Boasting California with the largest kelp forest in the World. Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, is known as the king of all plant life. The dense forest produced in the deep waters is a colony of brown algae that serves as shelter and “superfood” for fish and invertebrates.
As the hot rays from the sun raise the water temperature, they creates a convection system bringing dense minerals to the ocean’s surface. The rich nutrients and the cold-water temperature set up ideal conditions for robust kelp growth.
However, the heating up of the environment caused an imbalance in the ecosystem. Kelp is critical to the survival of 800 species. The waters of California offer some of the greatest biodiversity in the world of oceans. The overfishing of white sheep-head fish and the migration of sea urchins that prefer the nutrient density of the kelp also contributed the disappearance of the forest.
This rich colony of kelp thrived until 1997 when a very warm and very strong El Nino Hurricane hit Orange County raising the cool water temperatures to increase to the mid-70’s. This merger of warm water proved a casualty to kelp life.
The winter of 1997-1998 was marked by record-breaking El Nino events and unusual extremes, according to a report by the National Climatic Data Center. “December 1997 through February 1998 was the second warmest and seventh wettest since 1895,” says the report.
Over the last three decades the disappearance of kelp in Orange County mounted to a 90 percent loss and most recent loss activity is fully credited El Nino.
Attempts to restore kelp between Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar first began in 1967.
In 1995, Gordon Lehman, a electronic design engineer began working on restoration with North Orange County Regional Occupation Program (ROP); before creating Coastal Marine Technology (CMT) with Cliff Noland. After successful kelp transplants in Corona Del Mar, CMT received funding from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. CMT, set-up a laboratory in Lehman’s garage and began nurturing sporing kelp for transporting.
Lehman developed a method of using spores from the reproductive leaves of kelp plants by placing them in water containers laced with bathroom tile in bends. Then planting the tiles on to the ocean’s floor. This method of kelp transplant restoration proved successful.
Prior to Lehman, Dr. Wheeler North dedicated his work towards increasing kelp habitat in collaboration with The Kelp Habitat Improvement Project whose 1971 -72 annual report said “in Orange County transplantation of adult macrocystis commonly known as “kelp” dispersal of cultures of young sporophytes and control of urchin populations have been employed in effort to re-establish kelp strands.”