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Understanding The Threat To Californias Kelp Forests

Although not many residents of California are currently aware, there are major concerns regarding the vanishing kelp forests, which are one the most important marine ecosystems and habitats.

Giant kelp is a type of brown algae that grows above rocky reefs typically no more deep than ninety feet. Massive kelp beds form creating one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world.

California has already seen an 80% reduction in giant kelp forests in the last hundred years, one of the primary concerns for the kelp forests is the amount of contaminated storm water entering the oceans from the cities and carrying various pollutants along with it.

Warmer Ocean Water

One of the most well documented events concerning loss of kelp forest habitats was in San Diego County, when the nuclear generating station at San Onofre discharged heated water destroying over 150 acres of kelp forests.

Although many people accused the nuclear generating station of releasing toxic water, it was more than likely the sudden increase in warm water that caused the giant kelp to die off to rapidly.

Giant kelp thrives in cooler waters, which remain below 69 to 70 degrees. Another reason for the decline in kelp forests could be due to an increase in global ocean temperatures, however this would need to increase significantly to completely halt all growth.

Sea Otters And Kelp Forests

The loss of much of California’s kelp forests also coincides with another missing member of Calfiornia’s marine habitats, and that is the sea otter. Sea otters were almost hunted to extinction in California long before it was ever a state, but Californian’s have made great progress in bringing back this incredibly valuable part of the ocean’s health.

Sea otters maintain the health of kelp forests by keeping the populations of sea urchins and other invertebrates in balance. If left unmanaged, sea urchin populations can grow too large and destroy an entire kelp forest by eating away at their base.

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