The Kelp Recovery Program in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
In just a few short years, 90% of the kelp forests in northern California have disappeared. In 2018, a team of scientists, managers and resource users teamed up to create a Bull Kelp Recovery Plan that outlines specific research, monitoring, restoration and community engagement strategies to address the severe kelp loss off California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
There is no single path to recovery, but, through a foundation of partnerships, we’ve identified multiple actions to protect and restore kelp forests so they can continue to sustain marine ecosystems and coastal communities for years to come.
[An image of a globe zooms in to focus on the ocean off the coast of northern California. A map of the Greater Farallones Sanctuary is shown, with arrows pointing towards Point Arena, Point Reyes, and San Francisco. Superimposed behind the map is an image of the rocky ocean shore.]
NOAA’s Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary protects one of the world’s most diverse and bountiful marine ecosystems.
[Gentle waves crash onto the coast, and the camera zooms in to show bull kelp bobbing at the ocean’s surface. Underwater shots depict a kelp forest, the rocky floor dotted with sea stars and sea urchins.]
Along the sanctuary’s coast, bull kelp creates vast underwater forests, sustaining an incredible abundance and variety of marine life.
[A family points out at the water, where a ship sails and a whale spouts. A shot of kayakers holding binoculars is shown, then a flower blowing in the breeze with a view of the shore in the background.]
This vibrant ecosystem fuels coastal economies and activities like fishing, wildlife viewing, and recreation, as well as culturally-important practices and resources.
[The camera cuts to what appears to be a shot of a kelp forest, but the kelp fronds do not have blades and are cut short. Video pans over a rocky ocean floor, covered in clusters of purple sea urchins but no kelp]
But in just a few short years, more than 90% of the kelp forests in northern California have disappeared, causing devastating ecological and economic impacts.
[A person, standing in front of a marina, begins to speak. A blue banner appears in the bottom left corner of the screen, reading:
“Dr. Laura Rogers-Bennett
Senior Environmental Scientist,
California Department of Fish and Game”]
What we've seen over the years particularly in 2014, 15 and 16 was a massive marine heat wave. The heat wave was happening after we had a die-off of all of our sea stars, which are important predators. So we had these multiple stressors in the kelp forest.
[Camera switches between shots of sick, dying sea stars. A person stands on the beach and begins to speak. Another blue banner appears in the lower left corner, reading:
Commercial Urchin Diver”]
It'd be like if I went and I walked out in the forest and there weren't trees. So instead of looking around and seeing happy deer and hearing birds, it's just gone. So it's the same as underwater. Instead of seeing the fish in every hole and the schools of blues [rockfish] up in the top of the kelp, it's just purple urchins everywhere.
[A deer eating grass lifts its head and looks toward the camera, and a Red-winged blackbird perches on a tree branch. An underwater shot of a kelp forest is pictured, light shining through the fronds at the top, and then the camera pans over a rocky ocean floor covered in nothing but purple urchins.]
In 2018, a team of scientists, managers and resource users teamed up to create a Bull Kelp Recovery Plan that outlines specific research, monitoring, restoration and community engagement strategies to address the severe kelp loss off California’s Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
[Different shots of scientists on boats are shown, using a variety of equipment. A person dressed in a wetsuit stands on the beach, and a blue banner in the bottom left corner appears, reading:
Greater Farallones Sanctuary Advisory Council
Greater Farallones Association Board Member”]
Because we knew it's vitally important if we're going to create a solution, that everyone has to come together and be involved - both from an agency perspective at the state and federal level, but also from local businesses and local tribes people who know so much about our coasts and who offer valuable perspective so that we're make sure we're finding the right solutions.
[The speaker puts on the rest of their snorkeling gear and swims into the water. They are then pictured standing on the beach, gazing out at the water and holding a pair of freediving fins.]
Now, we’re working together to better understand kelp loss, and reduce stressors to help kelp forests recover more quickly and endure long-term threats like climate change.
[Divers swim through kelp forests. Video cuts to a woman speaking indoors, with a blue banner in the bottom left corner reading:
Kelp Recovery Program Coordinator,
Greater Farallones Association & National Marine Sanctuary”]
(Rietta Hohman) We have a network of partners called the kelp ecosystem and landscape partnership for research on resilience or KELPER for short. And, it includes folks that are stakeholders, we have researchers, we have members of the community, we have non-profits, we have for-profits, and really it's a way of looking at the comprehensive picture and how we can bring together different groups to address kelp loss.
[Video switches between shots of volunteers on the coast and researchers aboard vessels. Bull kelp sways in the current, and then the beach is pictured with a person holding binoculars and walking through grassy sand dunes.]
The Kelp Recovery Program is working with partners to restore kelp forests. We’re mapping kelp canopy with drones to monitor the health and recovery of bull kelp forests. We’re working with business ventures that are developing markets for purple urchins, an industry that would employ commercial divers to collect urchins from barrens and culture them as a quality seafood product. We’re also actively investigating other restoration methods, such as outplanting.
[Drones rise into the air, and aerial shots of the Sanctuary are pictured. Divers remove sea urchins from the ocean floor and put them into nets, and then a person is shown walking through an indoor sea urchin farm. A diver holds a kelp frond up to the camera, then a person wearing a fishing hat begins to speak. A blue banner appears in the bottom left corner, reading:
“Dr. Steve Lonhart
Research Specialist and Unit Diving Supervisor,
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary”]
(Steve Lonhart) We're all underfunded, we're all undermanned, and so one of the things that we recognized early on to manage and monitor such a large ocean area is partnerships and collaborations are key.
[A diver holding equipment swims underwater, and Dr. Steve Lonhart is shown talking to others aboard a research vessel. The video cuts back to footage of divers swimming in a kelp forest, sectioning areas off and taking measurements of fronds and urchins.]
(Narrator) There is no single path to recovery, but, through a foundation of partnerships, we’ve identified multiple actions to protect and restore kelp forests so they can continue to sustain marine ecosystems and coastal communities for years to come.
[Shots of drones, the Sanctuary waters, and scientists are shown. Video cuts back to Grant Downie speaking.]
(Grant Downie) I'm a second-generation California urchin diver. My dad's been doing it since 1980. He left Southern California to come up here for the whole Gold Rush of urchins now it's been a great life growing up. And I'm raising my kids now and buying a home in the area. I'd like to be able to stay here and keep doing that.
[Divers collect urchins, and boats with nets for urchins wait above. Images are shown of Grant Downie, his two children and dog, and urchins are pictured. The video returns to Grant Downie, then cuts to Rietta Hohman.]
I find that really amazing and inspiring just to see everyone working together, and really you know, having that level of commitment is awesome. So I have a lot of hope for kelp recovery.
[A group of scientists aboard a research vessel sit around a table having a discussion, and scientists and divers stand together smiling for a photo. Footage returns to Rietta speaking once more, then the screen fades to black.]
(Final text on screen)
Find out more about kelp recovery at farallones.noaa.gov and how you can help by visiting farallones.org/climate/kelp
For additional information, please visit:
[The logos for Earth is Blue, NOAA, and the National Marine Sanctuaries slide onto the screen, followed by the website sanctuaries.noaa.gov/earthisblue.]
Editor: Paul Cheterkin/NOAA
Cinematography: Paul Cheterkin/NOAA
David Ruck/ NOAA
Additional footage courtesy: Waz Hewerdine/Greater Farallones Association
Marco Mazza/The Last Forests Project
Steve Page/The Last Forests Project
Still Imagery: Corey Garza/California State University Monterey Bay
Abby Nickels/Greater Farallones Association
Music: Universal Production Music