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Bring Back the Kelp Forests of the Bay

We have a unique opportunity to preserve and expand kelp forests in the Santa Monica Bay, which have been devastated by human activity.


The Bay Foundation

Kelp forests are the ocean’s tropical rainforests, providing habitats for more than 700 species of fish, invertebrates, and other algae.

AND…. they help fight climate change. Our oceans absorb 30-40% of the CO2 in the atmosphere, and as the atmosphere warms, the ocean turns acidic.  Kelp grows so quickly, it pulls the CO2 from the water, which reduces the CO2 in the atmosphere as well. And, like land-based plants, kelp oxygenates the ocean, improving the water quality for other living organisms.

THE PROBLEM is that we’ve lost approximately 9,900 acres of kelp forests along the Southern California coastline due to human activity. For years, humans hunted the sea otter to near elimination, which allowed the invasive overpopulation of the sea urchin, which eats the ‘roots’ of the kelp and keeps it from growing. Without sea otters to keep their numbers in check, the sea urchins swarmed like locusts along the sea floor, and over 15 square miles of kelp forests have disappeared.

THE SOLUTION = a team of volunteer and commercial divers organized by The Bay Foundation clear sea urchins one 300 sq. meter plot at at time. The result has been instantaneous. Within days of clearing the sea floor, the kelp quickly returns, eventually growing a foot per day, and in a matter of 3 months the forest:
* supports a multitude of marine life, restoring a flourishing ecosystem – seals, crustaceans, and all kinds of fish;
* cleans, oxygenates and de-acidifies the water;
* and…. sequesters a LOT of carbon.

This year, we've launched our "Kelp Challenge" - an online fundraising contest where the top raisers for Kelp Restoration on our site receive prizes, such as:
• A Stand Up Paddle board lesson for 10 people
• 2 passes for a whale watching cruise in Newport Beach
• A Sunset Pleasure Cruise for 6 guests
• 3 Surfrider swag packs (including a T-shirt, stainless pint, and Bamboo utensils)
• 10 Surfrider stainless steel mugs
• 1 Stand Up Paddle surfboard

By supporting these kelp dives and funding kelp restoration, your dollars benefit the atmosphere and the ocean.  In addition, this project cleans our ocean, allows marine life to rebound and flourish, and it may protect our coast from erosion - countering all of the main threats our coast and lifestyle face as part of climate change.  

Kelp is the best way to fight global warming that you’ve never heard of. This process is especially important because our oceans absorb more than 30% of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere. As a result, our oceans are becoming increasingly acidic. Ocean acidification triggers the death of coral and hurts nearly all kinds of marine life, including the shellfish that billions of people rely on for food.

The Carbon Story

Ocean plants, from seagrasses to plankton, are less than 1% of the plant biomass on land, but they are so efficient at sucking up carbon that they cycle through approximately the same amount of carbon every year as all land-based plants!

Kelp is especially powerful. It grows at an amazing rate, up to 1 foot per day, making it one of the most productive ecosystems on earth. As the kelp re-grows, it sucks CO2 directly from the water, incorporating the carbon into its stalks and fronds, like land plants do. Plants reach maturity after about 1 year.

A recent report released by scientific institutes including the UNESCO International Oceanographic Commission has shown that as much as 7% of carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions we need can be achieved by protecting and restoring coastal plant life.

The Bay Foundation has identified 150 acres of urchin barren off Palos Verdes, and if restored it is projected to directly store up to 19.8 million lbs of CO2 over the next decade, according to calculations based on several peer-reviewed studies.

But that’s not the end of the story. Kelp generates powerful multiplier effects.

The Wildlife Story

The re-growth of kelp forests leads to the flourishing of ecosystems that store and sequester even more carbon.

The Bay Foundation’s data show that giant kelp density has more than tripled between 2013 and 2015, with increases in other types of algae, and as a result the number and size of red urchins, the diversity of fish species, and the overall biomass of fish such as kelp bass and sheephead have increased as well. The increasing presence of coastal life translates into a more powerful system for sequestering and storing carbon.

As recent research indicates, animals can play a key role in carbon storage. In the ocean and the coastal areas restored by kelp, animals such fish, “echinoderms” (sea urchins, sea stars) and oysters not only store carbon in their bodies (some of which gets sequestered permanently when thy die and fall to the sea floor), but also release carbonate minerals like CaCO2 directly into the water which lowers the water’s acidity and stores more carbon.

The De-Toxification Story

Kelp can also suck up the excess nitrogen and phosphorous that comes from agricultural runoff and wastewater.

There are some estimates that if we “accelerate seaweed production by 15% a year (the current growth rate is 9%) by 2050 that biomass will be able to remove eighteen per cent of the nitrogen and sixty-one per cent of the phosphorous contributed to the ocean by fertilizers annually, and will take up six per cent of the ocean’s emissions-related carbon.”

Below is an explanation of how much carbon each of these factors reduce, individually and jointly and the scientific sources of this information.

Our Calculations

• By surveying all relevant studies of kelp, our scientific partners at the Bay Foundation estimated that 23% of the carbon processed by kelp was stored physically on an on-going basis as “standing stock” and that additional 50% of that amount was transported to the deep sea environment.

• By restoring 150 acres of kelp forest by 2017, the Bay Foundation’s program is projected to directly store up to 19.8 million lbs of CO2 over the next decade. That’s equivalent of 32.7 lbs of CO2 per square meter, or 9786.83 lbs of CO2 per 300 square meter plot.

• In addition to the carbon sequestration by the kelp itself, there will be more carbon pulled in and stored by the other living organisms that come back to the ecosystem. We estimate that carbon sequestration to be 75% of the amount done by kelp directly. That means the total CO2 storage impact of 300 acres will be 17,1127 lbs.

We determine your personal impact by figuring out the per dollar cost of reducing 1 lb of CO2 and then multiplying that number by the amount of money you contributed.

• The cost of one dive to restore a 300 square meter plot is $1,000.

BOTTOM LINE: You reduce an additional 17 lbs of CO2 for every additional dollar you donate.

Watch kelp's rapid regrowth for yourself!

Sources for Kelp’s Direct Carbon Impact:
Wilmers CC, Estes JA, Edwards M, Laidre KL, Konar B. 2012. ‘Do trophic cascades affect the storage and flux of atmospheric carbon? An analysis of sea otters and kelp forests,’; Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, doi:10.1890/110176.
Dan Laffoley & Gabriel Grimsditch, eds., 2009. The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks. UCN, Gland, Switzerland. 53 pp. https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/carbon_managment_report_final_printed_version_1.pdf
Harrold C, Light K, Lisin S. 1998. Organic enrichment of submarine-canyon and continental-shelf benthic communities by macroalgal drift imported from nearshore kelp forests. Limnology and Oceanography, 4, doi: 10.4319/lo.1998.43.4.0669.
Reed, D. C., Rassweiler, A. and Arkema, K. K. 2008. ‘Biomass Rather Than Growth Rate Determines Variation In Net Primary Production By Giant Kelp.’ Ecology, 89: 2493–2505. doi:10.1890/07–1106.1
Sources for Kelp’s Indirect Impact:
Atwood TB, et al. 2014. Trophic-level dependent effects on CO2 emissions from experimental stream ecosystems, Global Change Biology, 20, 3386–3396, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12516.
Bay Foundation, ‘Kelp Restoration Annual Report July 2014 – June 2015’ http://www.santamonicabay.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Kelp-Restoration-Annual-Report-October-2015-Final.pdf
Bradley RA, Bradley DW. 1993. Wintering shorebirds increase after kelp (Macrocystis) recovery. The Condor 95: 372–376.
Claisse et al. 2013. Kelp forest restoration has the potential to increase sea urchin gonad biomass. Ecosphere 4(3):38.
Dojiri M, Yamaguchi M, Weisberg SB, Lee HJ. 2003. Changing anthropogenic influence on the Santa Monica Bay watershed. Marine Environmental Research 56: 1–14.
Duggins DO, Simenstad CA, Estes JA. 1989. Magnification of secondary production by kelp detritus in coastal marine ecosystems. Science 245: 170–173.
Ford T, Meux B. 2010. Giant Kelp community restoration in Santa Monica Bay. Urban Coast 2: 43–46.
Foster MS, Schiel DR. 2010. Loss of predators and the collapse of southern California kelp forests: Alternatives, explanations and generalizations. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 393: 59–70.
Graham MH. 2004. Effects of local deforestation on the diversity and structure of southern California giant kelp forest food webs. Ecosystems 7: 341–357.
Graham MH, Vasquez JA, Buschmann AH. 2007. Global ecology of the giant kelp Macrocystis: from ecotypes to ecosystems. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 45: 39–88.
Harrold C, Reed DC. 1985. Food availability, sea urchin grazing, and kelp forest community structure. Ecology 66: 1160–1169.
Kelly E, editor. 2005. The role of kelp in the marine environment. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 17. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland.
Schmitz OJ et al. 2014. ‘Animating the Carbon Cycle,’ Ecosystems17: 344–359 DOI: 10.1007/s10021–013–9715–7, p. 349.
Steneck RS, Graham MH, Bourque BJ, Corbett D, Erlandson JM, Estes JA, Tegner MJ. 2002. Kelp forest ecosystems: biodiversity, stability, resilience and future. Environ Conserv, 29(4):436–459.
Strickland MS, Hawlena D, Reese A, Bradford MA, Schmitz OJ. 2013. Trophic cascade alters ecosystem carbon exchange. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110(27):11035–11038. doi:10.1073/pnas.1305191110.
Tegner MJ, Dayton PK. 2000. Ecosystem effects of fishing in kelp forest communities. ICES. Journal of Marine Science 57: 579–589.
Wilmers CC, Estes JA, Edwards M, Laidre KL, Konar B. 2012. Do trophic cascades affect the storage and flux of atmospheric carbon? An analysis of sea otters and kelp forests, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, doi:10.1890/110176.
The Importance of ‘Blue Carbon’ to Fighting Climate Change ‘Blue Carbon: The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon’ A new Rapid Response Assessment report released 14 October 2009 at the Diversitas Conference, Cape Town Conference Centre, South Africa. Compiled by experts at GRID-Arendal and UNEP in collaboration with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the UNESCO International Oceanographic Commissions and other institutions, the report highlights the critical role of the oceans and ocean ecosystems in maintaining our climate and in assisting policy makers to mainstream an oceans agenda into national and international climate change initiatives. http://www.grida.no/publications/rr/blue-carbon/
Dan Laffoley & Gabriel Grimsditch, eds., The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks. 2009. UCN, Gland, Switzerland. 53 pp. https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/carbon_managment_report_final_printed_version_1.pdf

The Bay Foundation (TBF)—also known as the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation—is a 501(c) 3 non-profit environmental group founded in 1990 to restore and enhance Santa Monica Bay and local coastal waters.  TBF is staffed by science and policy experts who are passionate about understanding and protecting the Bay and the Bay watershed, and all the benefits that a healthy ecosystem can provide all those who use and enjoy it.

TBF works with a broad group of stakeholders, including government agencies, environmental groups, local communities, industry and scientists, to create and put into action innovative policies and projects that clean up our waterways, create green spaces in urban areas, and restore natural habitats both on land and underwater, such as wetlands and kelp forests.

The Bay Foundation’s work stretches across 7 program areas – you can check them out at the links below:

> Rivers and Streams 

> Coastal Wetlands and Lagoons 

> Beaches and Dunes 

> In the Ocean 

> Clean Boating

> Green Neighborhoods 

> Clean Bay Certified

TBF is part of the U.S. EPA’s Santa Monica Bay National Estuary Program (NEP)—learn more about estuaries here.  The SMBNEP is one of 28 similar programs established under Section 320 of the 1987 Clean Water Act and administered by the U.S. EPA.

As part of the SMBNEP, TBF is the non-profit partner of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Authority, and is focused on research, education, planning, cleanup efforts, and other priorities identified in the SMBNEP’s Bay Restoration Plan (BRP), a publicly-adopted comprehensive plan of action for protecting and restoring Santa Monica Bay. For more information on the entire SMBNEP, please visit the Background page.

The implementation of the BRP has resulted in massive improvements to the human and environmental health of the region.

A new documentary on the Bay Foundation's Kelp Restoration project

July 2016

More encouraging news about the power of kelp –

A large-scale scientific study just confirmed what our partners at the Bay Foundation have pioneered – kelp can play a huge role in removing CO2 directly from our coastal waters, reducing ocean acidification caused by man-made climate change, restoring vibrant ecosystems and fighting global warming!

‘Kelp is especially good at “soaking up excess nutrients and making waters cleaner for shellfish. Most academic papers looking at the benefits of kelp don’t even mention acidification. But it didn’t take much for Nichole Price of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine to put two and two together. “The biggest challenge in land-based kelp nurseries is keeping the pH low enough (i.e. the acidity high enough) because they consume so much CO2,” says Price, who wondered how those same photosynthetic algae were affecting ocean waters.

In the end, says Waldbusser, “I always come back to restoration.” Replanting the seagrasses or shell banks that used to exist in an estuary is much safer, and often easier, than some industrial schemes. And, he adds, it probably comes with “built-in benefits that we don’t even recognize.” ‘


November 2015

The Bay Foundation’s work to use kelp as a carbon sink is featured in a New Yorker magazine article by our friend Dana Goodyear:

Tom Ford, ED of the Bay Foundation ‘refers to seaweed-sequestered carbon as “gourmet carbon,” but not because he’s trying to get people to eat it. The kelp forest is a potential carbon sink—problematic carbon, embodied, makes its way up the food chain until it reaches an apex predator, such as a shark, which when it dies sinks to the ocean floor—and it also rebuilds a decimated ecosystem, providing a place for fish to breed and feed, and for migrating gray whales to hide their young. The fishermen get reëmployed, and the coast is protected from storm surges and erosion. Besides, a kelp forest is an ecological refuge that can be installed in the only real estate that is readily available. “Where am I going to plant the giant forest in the middle of L.A. to sequester carbon?” Ford said.

‘For the past two years, Ford and his colleagues have been bringing the forest back to life. Their method is simple: dive down with a hammer and smash most of the urchins they see. It has been remarkably effective, and thirty-four acres have been restored.


The Bay Foundation’s team makes many dives a year to restore kelp, clear urchins, and document the project’s progress.

Restoration activities require scientific divers who are AAUS certified, so the Bay Foundation can not accommodate volunteer divers.

There may be other types of opportunities such as various types of monitoring and photography.

Click here to learn more and inquire!

Word of mouth is our best way to build support.

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