Towering over the ocean floor and swaying with ocean currents, kelp species create complex underwater forests. Canopy-forming kelps are annuals or perennials that grow quickly—bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) in Puget Sound can grow a foot a day and giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) can stretch as much as two feet per day!
Like terrestrial forests, kelp forests provide a home for hundreds of marine organisms, including sea otters, critically endangered sunflower sea stars and a multitude of fishes. Kelp also provides food for many animals, including endangered pinto abalone, and for us humans! These ocean forests serve as one of the most vital and ecologically productive ecosystems on the planet. Here in Washington, 22 species of kelp make our state a global hotspot for kelp diversity.
The Seattle Aquarium’s Underwater Dome and the waters along the Pacific Coast showcase the rich biodiversity of kelp forest ecosystems. Canopy-forming kelps begin from tiny spores, which settle on rocks and other parts of the substrate before growing to the surface. Instead of roots, kelp is secured by holdfasts, which do not absorb nutrients but keep kelp attached to substrates on the ocean floor.
While kelp forest density can ebb and flow with seasons and storms, these critical ecosystems are showing concerning signs of overall decline. Pollution and warming waters from climate change are two main culprits for ongoing harm. According to recent research led by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, south Puget Sound’s shorelines have lost two-thirds of their bull kelp forests since the 1870s and, globally, kelp forests are disappearing four times faster than terrestrial forests. These findings are a snapshot of a larger story: around the world, kelp forests are at risk and kelp decline seems to be accelerating. Shrinking kelp forests lead to loss of biodiversity and habitat, decreased climate resilience for coastal communities, and a decline in fisheries and food security.
Kelp forest ecosystems and the diversity of species that rely on them stand to suffer more in the coming decades if we don’t act now. Further loss of kelp forests will fundamentally change our coastal ecosystems and foodways—and our way of life.
It’s not too late to act. The Seattle Aquarium is supporting the Keeping Ecosystems Living and Productive Act, or KELP Act, in Congress. This bill would establish a grant program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for kelp forest conservation, restoration and management projects. These types of projects can help us better understand what actions can support kelp forest growth and sustainability into the future—and then take those actions.
Kelp forests are a historically and culturally important ecosystem in Washington, and vital to the health of our ocean, food security and livelihoods. Now is the time to support these ecosystems to ensure that kelp forests grow and thrive for generations to come.
Here’s how you can help!
- Contact your member of Congress and urge them to co-sponsor the KELP Act (H.R.4458). (Thank you to Rep. Huffman from California for being the lead sponsor of this important bill, and to Rep. Jayapal from Washington for already signing on as co-sponsor!)
- Reduce nutrient and wastewater runoff from lawn and car care to improve water quality in Puget Sound. For example, use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly, or just use compost. Wash your car at a commercial car wash so that the wastewater is treated.
- Choose sustainable seafood, such as that recommended by Seafood Watch, and support kelp farming by trying food products containing sustainable kelp ingredients.
- If you go out in a boat, steer clear of kelp beds. Turn off the engine if you must pass through kelp (and if safe to do so).
Discover other ways you can take action to support ocean health!
- Learn more about the Seattle Aquarium’s policy & advocacy efforts
- Subscribe to our policy & advocacy email list
- Read about efforts to explore Puget Sound’s kelp forests by the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and others