Noyo Center welcomes Kelp Act
July 28, 2021 — The collapse of the kelp forest off the north coast is part of a long-running sequence of destabilizing disasters. The kelp is being devoured by purple urchin, a native species whose predators have disappeared from the food chain. The otters, which ate the larger urchin, were hunted to near regional extinction for their fur, and the pycnopodia sunflower sea star, which formerly feasted on smaller urchin, have withered away from a wasting disease. Now the urchin, unchecked, have eaten themselves into overpopulation and near starvation, a condition they can survive in for years. The result is expanses of urchin barrens, with nothing but purple urchin where entire underwater ecosystems once thrived in kelp forests.
Earlier this month, Congressman Jared Huffman introduced the Kelp Act, which would provide millions of dollars in grants to fund conservation, restoration, and management projects to restore kelp.
Sheila Semans, Executive Director of the Noyo Center for Marine Science in Fort Bragg, has a list of priorities for how to put some of that money to use, from figuring out how to remove more urchin from the water and turn it into a sustainable commodity, to restoring the sea star — and learning more about the dynamic between the urchin and kelp.
There are some glimmers of hope, with a few beds of kelp hanging in there even during the worst years of the urchin barrens.