With over one million members, The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 119 million acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide.
Kelp forests reduce ocean acidification, temper coastal erosion, and support over a thousand marine species. Alarmingly, Northern California has lost 96% of its bull kelp forests in the last ten years due to a variety of human-caused stressors. The main culprit, sea star wasting disease, nearly wiped out sunflower sea stars in 2013. As these sea stars are the natural predator of purple urchins, the urchin population exploded. This threw the entire underwater ecosystem out of balance as the urchins began eating anything in their path (including kelp) and creating urchin barrens devoid of almost any other form of life.
As with most projects TNC tackles, they are approaching this one from multiple angles. Their 5-year plan involves: harnessing satellite imagery and drones to track and monitor kelp; incubating an urchin ranching industry to help reverse their population explosion; developing a captive breeding program for sunflower sea stars in an attempt to save the species and reintroduce it to its natural habitat; working with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to design & implement adaptive management strategies; demonstrating successes in kelp farming and urchin removal to draft and drive new policy recommendations, and; catalyzing investment in global kelp conservation. In 2019, Bently Foundation awarded TNC with a $200,000 grant to help launch this vital new conservation initiative.
Photos by: Ralph Pace Photography