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Project tries to prevent kelp forests disappearing from beneath the sea

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 21st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Called the rainforests of the sea, underwater kelp forests in the ocean are likewise threatened like their cousins on the land. Entire beds of seaweed are disappearing, which is cutting into fisheries and coastal communities globally. Now, preservationists off the coast of California are now working to restore them.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, divers are at work in places known as "barrens," which onetime hosted thriving kelp forests. These parts of the seabed are now thick with sea urchins, creatures that have proliferated because of pollution and other human activities.

Divers are killing some of these urchins to thin the sickly and malnourished population.

"That will allow the kelp to establish itself," David Witting of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says. He adds that this restores the natural balance. "Once there's a healthy kelp forest system, the urchins tend to feed off of the broken-off pieces of adult kelp, rather than foraging on the juvenile kelp."

Kelp forests have been depleted in temperate waters in many parts of the world, Tom Ford of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation says.

"That list of places would include Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, South Africa, Chile, and then back up the coast here into North America," he said.

Young kelp plants take root and flourish due to the restoration work. Replenished healthy kelp forests provide a habitat for sea life, creating a place of natural beauty.

"It's very much like being in a forest under water. So you have that feeling of being under water, but you also have that filtered light," fisheries scientist David Witting says. "There are fish in all parts of the water column. There are tremendous amounts of diversity."

Kelp intervention is also taking place in other places such as Canada and South Korea, where coastal environments are under pressure, Ford explains.

"As our human population increases and people are moving into the cities, we are putting more pressures on our coastal environments, so that the pollution problem seems to be getting greater," he said. "At the same time [there are] more mouths to feed, so we're trying to get more and more out of our oceans to accomplish that."

A coalition of environmental and scientific groups and local fishermen are supporting the work, using techniques to restore the world's kelp forests. All hope to see the return of a healthy population of marine life. Scientists say the project shows that with some human help, the rainforests of the sea can flourish once again.

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